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Georgia: President Dismisses Cabinet Amid Media Scandal

Tbilisi, 1 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze dismissed the entire government today amid a scandal over a failed police raid on the Rustavi-2 independent television station. Shevardnadze said he dissolved the government in the interests of Georgia's "fate, of democracy and maintaining the belief that freedom of speech, civil freedom, and freedom of expression are not endangered."

"The situation was very tough indeed. And I had to take a decision, involving my colleagues, my friends, my fellow politicians; the decision, be honest, reflected neither my will nor my mood. I had to take this step for the sake of Georgia and its stability," Shevardnadze said.

Presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze said that until a new government is in place, ministerial functions will be carried out by first deputy ministers. Imnadze confirmed an earlier announcement of the move by parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, the second-ranked politician in the state.

Zhvania, a Shevardnadze opponent, has also stepped down. But Zhvania, amid continuing demonstrations in which some are demanding the resignation of Shevardnadze, told lawmakers it is important to "ease tension in the city and prompt the demonstrators to disperse." Zhvania insists that a power struggle is not underway and says Shevardnadze should not resign.

Thousands of demonstrators have refused calls to disperse.

Two days ago security agents tried but failed to enter the offices of the Rustavi-2 station, under the pretext of investigating its finances. The station has been critical of government policies, and the raid was seen as an attempt to muzzle the media.

Several thousand people gathered in Tbilisi yesterday to support Rustavi and media freedom in Georgia. They first demanded the resignations of Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze and Prosecutor-General Giya Maparishvili.

In the wake of those protests, Shevardnadze accepted the resignation of Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze, but said that the raid was not linked to any state interference in independent media.