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NATO Chief Expresses Concerns Over Georgia Arrests

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (right) meets with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose party lost the recent elections, during the plenary session of a NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Prague on November 12.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says he is "extremely concerned" about political developments in Georgia since last month's parliamentary elections.

He discussed his concerns during a November 12 meeting of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Prague.

"[There’s] no reason to hide that I am extremely concerned about the development we have seen since [the elections], not least related to recent arrests of political opponents in Georgia," Rasmussen said.

"It's for the legal system, the judicial system in Georgia, to sort out these cases but of course it's important that such trials are not undermined by political interference and we will of course follow that development very, very closely."

On November 9, a Georgian court released armed forces chief of staff Giorgi Kalandadze and Georgian Army brigade commander Zurab Shamatava on bail but left former Interior and Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia in pretrial detention. Akhalaia was ordered to be kept in pretrial detention for two months.

The three were arrested and charged with abuse of office last week. All three worked under President Mikheil Saaksashvili.

Saakashvili also attended the NATO meeting in Prague. In an interview with RFE/RL, he said he agreed with Rasmussen’s comments.

"The main challenge for us is to have the process of law, which is to say it's not about the culpability or innocence of certain individuals. It's about the rule of law and the due process of law," Saakashvili said.

"From that point of view, of course, we have lots of concerns. And hopefully it can be remedied, and we can find a way to reverse it, but at this stage I think the language used by [Secretary-General Rasmussen] expressing strong concern is pretty valid."

Saakashvili's United National Movement lost the October 1 parliamentary elections to new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition.

A NATO flag flutters in front of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a leader of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, as he addresses supporters at an election rally in Tbilisi in late September.
A NATO flag flutters in front of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a leader of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition, as he addresses supporters at an election rally in Tbilisi in late September.

Ivanishvili, who was confirmed as prime minister atop a new government on October 25, has vowed to take action against former officials suspected of wrongdoing.

Rasmussen's remarks came as Ivanishvili was in Brussels on his first official trip abroad since the elections. He was expected to meet with Rasmussen during his three-day trip.

On November 12, he met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

At a news conference, Barroso reiterated the importance of the European Union's relationship with Georgia.

"I see the Prime Minister [Ivanishvili's] choice to visit Brussels in his first official trip abroad as a clear sign of Georgia's continued engagement with the European Union," Barroso said.

"Georgia is a key member of our Eastern Partnership [program] and European Union is keen in bringing the country closer to the European Union."

Ivanishvili said Georgia's integration with the European Union and NATO were his government's priorities.

His trip to Brussels -- less than two weeks after taking office -- is widely seen as a signal to the West that ties with NATO and Europe, rather than Russia, remain Georgia's top priority.

The 56-year-old billionaire businessman made most of his fortune in Russia. He has promised to improve relations with Moscow that were damaged in 2008 after a brief war between the two countries.

With reporting by Ron Synovitz, Reuters, ITAR-TASS, RFE/RL's Georgian Service, and dpa
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