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Georgian Ex-Defense Minister Sentenced To Prison

Former Defense Minister and Mikheil Saakashvili ally Bacho Akhalaia talking to media at the prosecutor's office in Tbilisi in November 2012.
TBILISI, October 28, 2013 -- A Georgian court has sentenced a former Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia to nearly four years in prison.

The Tbilisi city court on October 28 found Akhalaia, an ally of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili, guilty of "abuse of office" for allegedly using excessive force in suppressing a 2006 prison riot in which seven inmates were killed.

Akhalaia -- who was in charge of the prison system at the time -- called the charges politically motivated and his lawyer said he would appeal.

The prison term is the first imposed on a Saakashvili ally, a number of whom are awaiting trial.

It comes the day after a presidential election was won by an ally of Saakashvili's rival, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Ivanishvili has said Saakashvili could also be questioned over alleged abuses after he leaves office next month.

EU officials recently urged the Georgian prime minister to respect the rule of law and avoid the "politics of revenge."

Visiting Tbilisi ahead of this weekend's presidential election, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt decried the danger of "politically motivated justice."

"The best that Georgia can do to get to signing and then the implementation of the [EU] Association Agreement is to continue to modernize and to avoid both the substance and even the appearance of politically motivated justice," Sikorski said.

Georgia hopes to sign an Association and Free Trade Agreement with the EU at an Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 28-29.

With reporting by AP and AFP