Georgia accuses Russia over foiled rebellion

Tue May 5, 2009 3:41pm EDT
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By Niko Mchedlishvili

MUKHROVANI, Georgia (Reuters) - Georgia said it put down a mutiny at a military base on Tuesday and accused Moscow of trying to foment a wider rebellion on the eve of NATO war games in the former Soviet republic.

Russia, which fought a war with neighboring Georgia last year, denied involvement and said President Mikheil Saakashvili was trying to shift the blame for weeks of opposition protests demanding he resign.

Around 30 tanks and armored personnel carriers entered the Mukhrovani tank base 19 km (12 miles) from Tbilisi about three hours after news broke of a military uprising. Saakashvili later followed them, and authorities said the rebellion was over.

It was not clear how many of the 500 soldiers at the base were involved, but their commander was arrested along with seven other military police officers. Three others were on the run, said police, who also detained 13 civilians.

Georgian Defense Minister David Sikharulidze said the rebellion was aimed at disrupting month-long NATO exercises beginning on Wednesday at a former Russian air force base several kilometers from Mukhrovani.

Russia has described the planned exercises as "muscle-flexing."

"What happened today is the end of that dark era when certain forces try to undermine Georgian statehood," Sikharulidze said.

Earlier, Russia's Interfax news agency said Mukhrovani base commander Mamuka Gorgishvili had made a statement criticizing the government. He pledged not to use force in the stand-off on the streets between opposition supporters and the authorities.

"One cannot look calmly at the process of the country falling apart, at the ongoing confrontation. But our tank unit will not resort to any aggressive actions," the agency quoted Gorgishvili as saying.

After his arrest, police released a video of Gorgishvili telling police another officer had offered him money to send tanks to Tbilisi, saying "the opposition is waiting."


A spokesman for the U.S. Pentagon said the mutiny appeared to be "a fairly isolated incident at this point."

Saakashvili accused the plotters of links to Moscow and demanded Russia "refrain from provocations."

Georgia's opposition accused the government of staging "a show" to deflect attention from their protests over his record on democracy and last year's war.

Russia said Saakashvili's accusations were "insane."  Continued...

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