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Georgian Opposition Party Claims Police Bugged Offices

TBILISI (Reuters) - Opposition leaders in Georgia have accused police of bugging their offices to undermine a street campaign against President Mikheil Saakashvili, a charge the Interior Ministry denied.

The opposition Conservative Party, one of more than a dozen parties involved in a months-long campaign to oust Saakashvili, said "listening devices" had been found at its Tbilisi premises.

"At a minimum, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili should resign," senior party official Zviad Dzidziguri told a news conference. "He's using all the means he can to put pressure on his political opponents."

Fellow opposition party Georgia's Way said it had also found listening devices at its offices on June 29.

The opposition launched street protests in early April, accusing Saakashvili of monopolizing power and dragging the country into a disastrous war with Russia last August, when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The Interior Ministry, which often releases to media secretly-filmed video or audio recordings of alleged criminals, said it had launched a criminal probe into the allegations.

It said police had stopped using similar bugs six years ago.

"After examining the listening devices, it was established that they do not come under the category of special equipment," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The bugs "may be legally purchased not just in Georgia but in many foreign countries without special licenses," it said.

After a strong start, the daily opposition demonstrations have largely petered out, but protesters continue to man improvised prison cells blocking traffic on the capital's central avenue in front of parliament.

The opposition has accused police of arresting dozens of its activists on weapons charges and both sides have traded blame for a spate of violent incidents, vying for the sympathy of Georgia's Western backers.

Masked police on June 15 beat dozens of protesters outside the main police station and seized journalists' cameras.