TBILISI Georgia's main opposition party split on Thursday, a move likely to weaken the ruling party's opponents and help it further entrench its grip on power.
The United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, co-founded by former President Mikheil Saakashvili, is strongly pro-Western and vehemently opposed to the Kremlin, while the ruling party has improved relations with Moscow.
A group of senior UNM members said they would leave the party, start a new political movement and create a separate faction in parliament. They were unhappy over the continued influence exercised over the party by Saakashvili.
He lives outside Georgia because the authorities have threatened him with arrest over charges that include misspending public funds. He says the charges are a political witch hunt. He had been working as a reformist regional governor in Ukraine until he resigned from that job last year.
"One person is responsible for dismantling the party," Gigi Ugulava, one of the figures leaving the party said at a briefing, referring to Saakashvili. "This person no longer radiates leadership," he said.
The ruling Georgian Dream party decisively won parliamentary elections on Oct. 8 last year, while the UNM came second. Saakashvili's supporters plan to hold a congress on Jan. 20.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Christian Lowe)