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Shida Kartli Governor Dismissed
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 13 Sep.'07 / 14:54

The governor of the Shida Kartli region, Mikheil Kareli, who has close links to the ex-defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili, was dismissed on September 12.

President Saakashvili made the decision following an incident in Gori on September 12, in which local people, including the governor, tried to storm the local city council building. The building had been sealed by police searching for further evidence of corruption, following the earlier arrest of several officials from the Gori local administration on corruption charges.

"We were astonished to see how the Shida Kartli governor behaved during the special operation in Gori," PM Zurab Nogaideli said. "Instead of supporting the police and expressing concern about the alleged cases of corruption, he effectively tried to obstruct them. Naturally, we had to respond."

He said that the decision about Kareli's dismissal was made following consultation with President Saakashvili. The president is expected to soon nominate Vladimir Gegelashvili, an MP from the ruling party, to the vacant position.

Despite the dismissal, lawmakers from the ruling party have pressed for further action to be taken against Kareli if criminal wrong doing emerges.

Giga Bokeria, an influential lawmaker from the ruling party, also said that the anti-government statements made by the former governor were incompatible with membership of the ruling party.

"We have witnessed an unsuccessful attempt to cause unrest [in Gori]. Moreover, it is absolutely unacceptable when a person [the former governor] politically reacts when his friend has been charged," Bokeria said.

On September 12 several officials from the local administration, including Vasil Makharashvili, the governor of Gori, Nugzar Papunashvili, the deputy chairman of the local administration and Gaioz Dzanadia, the governor of the Kareli district, were arrested on corruption charges.

Police sealed off the local administration building to search for additional evidence. This apparently angered many local people, who then tried to storm the building.

Mikheil Kareli and an MP from the ruling party, Teo Tlashadze, who is also an Okruashvili ally, were among the protesters.

"Of course, it's all political," MP Tlashadze told reporters, while publicly ripping up her party membership card. Reportedly, some other members of the ruling party share her position.

"What has happened in Gori is a shameful reflection on the president. We will do our best to get rid of such a government," MP Tlashadze told reporters on September 12.

It is expected that Teo Tlashadze will quit the ruling majority as well. According to media reports, talks are underway to create a faction in the
legislative body, reportedly to act as a parliamentary powerbase for the ex-defense minister, Irakli Okruashvili. Several lawmakers from the ruling party and the opposition are expected to defect to this party.

The incident in Gori comes on the heels of a series of defections from the executive and legislative branches by Okruashvili supporters. In July, Alexander Sukhitashvili, the deputy defense minister, resigned.

The latest developments also suggest that the former defense minister's return to Georgian politics is immenent.

According to Georgian media sources, there has been much coming and going of various political and public figures at a building in downtown Tbilisi, which is considered to be Okruashvili's party headquarters. The visitors, however, have all been tight-lipped, refusing to make any comment.

Speculation is now centering on when Okruashvili's party platform will be unveiled. With the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections fast approaching, and particularly following the latest developments in Gori, it is thought to be soon.

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