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Praise, Scorn For Accusations Against Georgia President

Irakli Okruashvili at a press conference in Tbilisi on September 25 (ITAR-TASS) September 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- "The fairy-tale man," a "frustrated, vulgar patriot" -- these are just some of the labels that former political allies have attributed to Irakli Okruashvili, once a prominent member of the Georgian administration, now a radical opposition figure.

His supporters, on the other hand, have characterized him as a "brave man," "a real Georgian," and a "courageous fighter." Dozens today joined Okruashvili's newly founded opposition Movement for a United Georgia today.

In the period between the 2003 Rose Revolution and his exit from politics in 2006, Okruashvili held numerous senior posts, including prosecutor-general, interior minister, and defense minister.

Okruashvili left politics one year ago and went to live abroad. But on September 25, he staged a dramatic comeback -- at a press conference, which was followed by a lengthy interview aired live on Imedi television, Okruashvili made a series of grave accusations against President Mikheil Saakashvili and his administration.

Planned Sensational Killings

He accused Saakashvili of ordering killings: Okruashvili said he was personally ordered by the president to liquidate Badri Patarkatsishvili, a business tycoon and co-owner of Imedi. According to Okruashvili, the president had "a concrete plan," and wanted to get rid of Patarkatsishvili "the same way" as Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, who was killed in a car-bomb attack."

Okruashvili also accused Saakashvili of ordering an attack on an opposition parliament deputy, Valeri Gelashvili, who was beaten by armed men in Tbilisi in 2005.

Perhaps the most sensational accusation made by Okruashvili was that evidence surrounding the death of the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania was fabricated.

Contrary to the official verdict -- which said that Zhvania died of carbon-monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty gas heater in an apartment -- Okruashvili said Zhvania's body was brought to the flat where it was later discovered. "I am not going to exploit this theme, and to say that Zhvania was for sure killed," he said. "I don't have this information. But I have other information -- his corpse was delivered to that flat."

Irakli Okruashvili also spoke about Saakashvili's "inability" to reclaim Georgia's lost territories, and his protective and corrupt policies toward his family members. He said that at one point, he had "almost returned one of [Georgia's] lost territories [to Georgia]," but because of "Saakashvili's incapability," he had to "back off." In 2004, Okruashvili launched an abortive attack in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Okruashvili also said he assumes responsibility for knowing all this and keeping silent -- until now, that is. He said he wanted to "unite Georgia" and this is why he did not voice his concerns.

Reactions Follow Party Lines

Members of the administration and the ruling party dismissed and ridiculed Okruashvili's statements. Nodar Grigalashvili, a deputy from the ruling National Movement party, said Okruashvili's claims were not even worth investigating.

"Now, let's imagine that suddenly you say that I am planning to dig a tunnel from Mumbai to London -- or that I have already done so," he said. "What are you going to investigate? I have not done this tunnel, there's nothing to investigate here."

But other politicians believe there should be an independent investigation. "If anyone suspects that Saakashvili was planning an attack on Patarkatsishvili, or that he killed Zhvania -- this will be proved true if the government refuses to launch an independent investigation," Kakha Kukava, an opposition deputy, said.

There has not yet been a response from Saakashvili, who is currently in New York at the UN General Assembly.