Huge protests in Tbilisi demand election after corruption claims

Thousands took to the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, yesterday to demand snap elections following a series of extraordinary corruption allegations directed at President Mikhail Saakashvili by a formerly close political ally.

The largest massed demonstration since the so-called Rose Revolution, which brought Mr Saakashvili to power in 2003, was triggered by a televised tirade against the President by Irakli Okruashvili, the 33-year-old former defence minister. Mr Okruashvili, who left the government a year ago, was subsequently arrested on charges of extortion and money laundering.

The former minister, who has recently formed an opposition political party, levelled a number of accusations at Mr Saakashvili, long seen in the West as a democratising reformer, stating that his government "has made dishonesty, injustice and repression a way of life". He said the government had covered up the true cause of the death in 2005 of the then Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, without giving more details. The official version is that Mr Zhvania died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a gas leak.

Perhaps the most sensational allegation made by Mr Okruashvili was that in July 2005, the President personally ordered him to have Badri Patarkatsishvili assassinated. Patarkatsishvili is a Georgian oligarch currently living in London and the long-time business partner of Boris Berezovsky.

"Saakashvili told me we should get rid of him the same way as Rafik Hariri," said Mr Okruashvili, adding that the President had a "concrete plan" in place. Mr Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, was killed in a car bomb attack in Beirut in February 2005. Mr Okruashvili claims to have passed on this information to the American government, after which Mr Saakashvili never spoke about the planned assassination again.

When Mr Saakashvili came to power in the bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003, he promised to eradicate corruption, raise living standards, and turn Georgia from a corrupt dictatorship under president Eduard Shevardnadze into a modern democracy. He sent Georgian troops to Iraq to aid the coalition forces and even named a street in Tbilisi after George Bush. In response, Georgia received vast amounts of US financial aid, and political support in disputes with Russia.

But while Mr Saakashvili's government has certainly made huge strides in fighting corruption, and raised living standards for much of the population, many have questioned his democratic credentials, and Mr Okruashvili's allegations and subsequent arrest have given them a rallying point.

"I have no doubt that the accusations are 100 per cent true," said Tina Khidasheli of the opposition Republican Party. "Everyone has been talking about them for a long time, but now someone from the inner circle has come out with it, they have more credibility."

Some analysts in Georgia questioned Mr Okruashvili's motives in making the allegations. "He already knew he was going to be arrested," said Alex Rondeli, the president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. "He knew that the best thing for him was to say these extraordinary things, which I think are false."

The former defence minister would be a strange leader for the democratic opposition, however, given his reputation as an uncompromising hawk. "Okruashvili used to be too close to power not to be implicated in some of the allegations," said Magdalena Frichova, the Tbilisi-based Caucasus project director at the International Crisis Group. "This is not a vote for Okruashvili."

But whatever their feelings about Mr Okruashvili himself, the protesters found resonance in his allegations. "People didn't come here because of Okruashvili," said Ms Khidasheli. "They came with their own anger."

The protestors dispersed peacefully in the evening, with opposition figures promising more to come. "A lot will depend on how Saakashvili responds," said Ms Khidasheli. The Georgian President has not yet returned after addressing the UN General Assembly in New York. If he doesn't increase governmental accountability and defuse the crisis, she said, "there could be a revolution".

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories