Irakli Okruashvili, ex-defense minister and once President Saakashvili’s closest ally, has accused the president of engaing in “anti-state steps” and “ordering murders.”
In his first public statement since he quit the government last November, Okruashvili also finally announced the launch of his political party – Movement for United Georgia. He refused to take question after his ten-minute speech, but said he planned to give further details and “answer all questions” during a TV appearance planned for later on Tuesday.
“I will definitely speak more on these crimes, which were masterminded by the authorities,” he said. Okruashvili added: “I was ordered by Saakashvili several times to liquidate certain influential and important people, which I refused to do.” He gave no further details.
There has been considerable speculation that “a war of compromising materials” would precede Okruashvili’s political comeback and the unveiling of his new opposition party.
Okruashvili said at the news conference in his party's headquarters in downtown Tbilisi that “fascist trends” and “anti-state steps undertaken by the authorities” had convinced him and his co-thinkers to set up the new movement. He also suggested that it hadn't been easy to launch the party.
People, he said, “are terrorized” because of “repression.” “Those with dissenting opinions are deemed ‘enemies of the state’ and the government is refusing to hold a dialogue with them,” he said.
This, he said, had made it difficult to convince people to engage in public life.
Okruashvili said that the anti-corruption campaign was “unreal.” The prisons, he said, were full of petty criminals, while corruption continued to thrive among “top level officials, Saakashvili’s inner circle and his family.”
“Three years ago when I was Interior Minister,” Okruashvili said, “I arrested Temur Alasania, the president’s uncle, for extortion of USD 200,000. I, however, had to release him on the president’s insistence.”
He also accused the authorities, and personally Saakashvili, of, as he put it, “a deliberate anti-Orthodox Church campaign” and “of fighting against Georgian traditions and values.”
“Saakashvili has an inner hatred of the Georgian Orthodox Church,” Okruashvili said. “The Georgian church is the most respected institution in Georgia. [Because of this] he [Saakashvili] perceives the Church as his main competitor. While in his inner circle, I often heard him talking about splitting the Church and discrediting the clergy.”
He also said that there was “a clear attempt” by the Saakashvili administration “to re-write Georgia’s history, as if nothing Georgian existed before the Rose Revolution, and everything new is being created by Saakashvili.”
Okruashvili also made an obvious attempt to appeal to other walks of life by saying that the older generation, those over 50, had been “neglected and humiliated.”
Internally displaced persons from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said, “were not regarded as human beings during ex-President Shevardnadze’s regime and this trend has continued in the Saakashvili regime as well.”
He also criticized the authorities’ policies towards the secessionist regions.
“We were one step away from reclaiming one of our lost territories,” Okruashvili said, apparently referring to South Ossetia.
Several months before his resignation from the cabinet, Okruashvili said that he had planned to celebrate the 2007 New Year in Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway South Ossetia. Commentators said that Saakashvili’s decision to move Okruashvili last November from the Defense Ministry to the Ministry of Economy was largely because of Okruashvili’s perceived hawkish stance on South Ossetia.
In his speech on September 25, Okruashvili said that “only Saakashvili’s weakness, inability and fear” had foiled plans to reclaim the secessionist region. He also said Saakashvili was too weak to take an unspecified “historic decision.”
He also criticized Tbilisi’s decision to create the provisional South Ossetia administration, led by Dimitri Sanakoev. Okruashvili said Sanakoev had no respect and authority among the population of the region. He also said that installing Sanakoev was “an imaginary attempt” to unite the country.
Okruashvili explained his decision to “quietly” quit the government without voicing his discontent was because of, as he put it, his sense of “civil responsibility.”
“Army officers, who are still my friends, asked me to do it quietly,” he said and added that by doing so he had denied the country’s enemies an opportunity to speculate on a split within the government.
Okruashvili admitted that he shared “the responsibility for some mistakes because I was also once part of this government.”
“I, however, have done nothing but good for my country when in government,” he added. “So any attempt to discredit me will fail.”
Towards the end of his speech, he implied that he might have presidential ambitions.
“Georgia will be united only if it has a president who doesn't humiliate and insult its own people,” Okruashvili said.
Throughout his speech, Okruashvili's fellow party members stood beside him. They include: lawmakers Tea Tlashadze, Ketevan Makharashvili, Koka Guntsadze, Gia Tortladze and Gia Tsagareishvili; former Deputy Defense Minister Levan Nikolaishvili and a lawyer, Eka Beselia.
Two former journalists from Rustavi 2 TV station, Nana Lezhava and Natia Lazashvili, were also there. Both quit the TV station shortly after Rustavi 2 changed hands last November following Okruashvili’s resignation.
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