Georgia opposition says arrests are provocation

TBILISI Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:21pm GMT

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TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia charged 10 men who were filmed by police apparently buying guns and plotting to stir unrest during anti-government protests next month, and the opposition Wednesday accused authorities of provocation.

The men, with links to the opposition, were charged late on Tuesday with illegal weapons possession. Police released secretly filmed video of them apparently buying weapons and discussing plans to fight security forces and seize buildings.

Opposition leader Nino Burjanadze accused infiltrators of penetrating her organisation in order to discredit it.

With pro-government television stations airing new police videos for a third day, Burjanadze told reporters Wednesday no member of her party was above the law, and if found guilty should be punished.

But she questioned the inquiry's credibility, and suggested her party might have been set up. "It's absurd, and this absurdity is growing and growing to unimaginable proportions."

"We saw some strange pictures today. The person detained at our party headquarters at 6.00 a.m. Monday does not have any responsibilities or rights, and no one in the party knows him."

"This is dirty provocation," said Badri Bitsadze, Burjanadze's husband, a former chief of border police and a senior member of the opposition.

"Who's (President Mikheil) Saakshvili to resist this?" one suspect is shown saying in the latest video released by police Wednesday, pointing at a rocket-propelled grenade.

Saakashvili has come under mounting opposition pressure since Georgia's five-day war with Russia last year, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia.

"INFILTRATION"

Tensions were building ahead of the April rallies to demand Saakashvili's resignation, but the opposition now finds itself on the defensive. Political analysts said talk of unrest in the police video could put some people off next month's rallies.

The saga has echoes of late 2007, when the government accused several opposition figures, based partly on video footage, of trying to stage a coup during opposition protests that were smashed by police.

The police crackdown shocked Saakashvili's Western backers.

Burjanadze, who originally broke the news of the arrest of several members or activists of her Democratic Movement-United Georgia party Monday, late Tuesday said she had warned in the past that her opposition could face infiltration.

"When I was warning about possible provocation, I was talking about precisely that -- that the authorities could use different scenarios, including infiltration of various provocateurs into our party, using video and audio editing ... to discredit the opposition ahead of the April 9 protest," she told Georgia's state broadcaster.

Burjanadze is a prominent former ally of Saakashvili who co-authored the former Soviet state's 2003 "Rose Revolution" but then split with the pro-Western president in early 2008, criticising his record on democracy.

The suspects were remanded in custody for two months. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the investigation would continue.

"We are at a very early stage," he said. "I think it will be a very long and interesting investigation."

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