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Georgia alleges coup plot

Georgian authorities accuse the tiny Caucausus country's richest man of plotting a coup aimed at disrupting next week's presidential polls, reports Fred Weir.

world Updated: Dec 26, 2007 23:25 IST
Fred Weir

Georgian authorities have accused the tiny Caucausus country's richest man of plotting a coup aimed at disrupting next week's presidential polls and bringing a pro-Moscow regime to power.

Georgian prosecutors this week released a secret tape that purports to show exiled tycoon and presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili offering $100-million to a top Interior Ministry official, Erekle Kodoua, in return for control over police forces in the days following the emergency election, slated for January 5.

Georgia has been in turmoil since pro-Western President Mikhael Saakashvili ordered the forcible dispersion of thousands of anti-government protesters, closed down media outlets and declared a state of emergency in early November.

Saakashvili accused the protesters of working for Moscow, in an effort to derail his government's efforts to strengthen ties with the European Union and bring Georgia into the NATO military alliance.

Saakashvili declared the snap presidential elections and lifted restrictions on opposition activities. Six candidates, including Saakashvili and Patarkatsishvili, are on the ballot.

According to the prosecutor's tape, which Patarkatsishvili has labelled a fake, Kodoua was to reveal "evidence" of ballot stuffing by authorities, arrest Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and take control over the country's police forces on the day after elections.

"For these services, Patarkatsishvili promised (Kodoua) 100 million dollars and that he would be proclaimed a national hero," deputy prosecutor Nikolai Gvaramia told journalists.

Patarkatsishvili, who lives in London, is a former business partner of exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and, along with Rupert Murdoch, is co-owner of Georgia's most popular private station, Imedi TV.

The tapes allegedly show Patarkatsishvili's campaign chief, Valery Glebakhiani, as saying "that on January 6 there will be mass disorder..., that the elections would be invalidated, which would set the stage for a coup."