WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States warned Georgia on Thursday not to follow the path of Ukraine into an era of political witch-hunts as the country’s new government prosecutes a raft of former officials following last month’s parliamentary election.
“We do hope that everything that is done with respect to prosecuting any potential wrongdoers is done transparently in accord with due process and the rule of law,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in remarks with visiting Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze.
The detentions of former state officials since billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili led a coalition to victory over President Mikheil Saakashvili’s long-ruling party in parliamentary elections last month has raised fears of political reprisals and drawn criticism from the European Union.
More than 10 former senior officials - including a former interior minister and the army’s acting chief-of-staff - have been arrested and charged with abuse of power, illegal confinement or illegally obtaining personal information.
Saakashvili, who has steered a strongly pro-Western course since rising to power in the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution, is due to remain in the presidency until next year.
A senior State Department official said Clinton’s message to Georgia was clear, citing backsliding in Ukraine where the prosecution of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has been roundly criticized by Western governments as selective justice.
“A key message that we are giving the new Georgian government, including today, is do not follow the course of Ukraine. Do not become Ukraine.”
Panjikidze took pains to reassure Clinton over how the cases would go forward and “was very clear in understanding that they know the world is watching,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.
Washington has repeatedly urged cooperation between political rivals in the ex-Soviet republic, a route for Caspian Sea oil and gas exports to Europe and a focus of geopolitical rivalry between the West and Russia, which routed Georgian forces in a five-day war in August 2008.
Reporting By Andrew Quinn