Georgian PM fires defence minister, destabilising coalition

By bne IntelliNews November 5, 2014

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Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashili has dismissed the defence minister, Irakli Alasania, following a raft of corruption charges against top officials in the ministry which Alasania criticised as politically instigated.

The surprise move late on November 4 a few hours after Alasania, one of the cabinet most-Western minded and most popular ministers, issued a statement branding the recent arrests of General Staff officials and charges of army medical officers as “obviously politically motivated”.

He added that the measures represented “an attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice”.

The prime minister slammed the statement as “completely irresponsible”.

“We have stated for multiple times that fighting corruption is one of the priorities of our government and we are and will be uncompromising in case of exposing such facts no matter which agency or minister is involved – this is our principled position,” Garibashvili said in his statement.

On October 28, the public prosecutor’s office announced the arrest of one former and four serving officials in the Ministry of Defence on charges of misspending over GEL4mn ($2.3mn) in a suspected sham tender to lay fibre optic cables last year.

Alexi Petriashvili, a member of Alasania’s Free Democrats party, resigned in protest as European and Euro-Atlantic integration minister. Other members of his Free Democrats party, including the deputy prime minister and the ministers of justice and foreign affairs, are expected to follow suit.

“Dictatorship is coming to Georgia, our democracy is in danger," said Petriashvili.

The departures cast a shadow over the stability of the six-party governing Georgian Dream (GD) coalition, established by former prime minister and Georgia’s wealthiest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, in 2012 to oppose former President Mikhail Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement. An eventual decision by the Free Democrats to leave the coalition would jeopardise the GD majority in parliament.

In an interview on Georgia’s TV station Rustavi 2 late on November 4, shortly after his dismissal, Alasania refused to answer questions about the Free Democrats leaving the coalition. However, asked whether he thought GD would take part in the next parliamentary election in 2016 in its current six-party organisation, Alasania responded: “I see absolutely no chance of that.”

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