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Georgia's authorities are pursuing a policy of political terror, including through the murder of opposition representatives
Georgia's authorities are pursuing a policy of political terror, including through the murder of opposition representatives, a leading campaigner for the opposition claimed Thursday. President Mikheil Saakashvili is feted in the West for his business reforms and striving to take Georgia into the European Union and NATO, but there has been some criticism in his homeland for a perceived crackdown on the opposition. At least 14 people were charged with preparing a coup in September after a wave of arrests. Irina Sarishvili, who heads the Imedi political movement and Khena anti-fascist coalition, told journalists at a Moscow news conference that Georgia has effectively been living in a dictatorship since the president swept to power in 2004 on the back of the "rose revolution" the previous year. "The Saakashvili regime has widely practiced political terror, including through murders," she said. "Death squads, directly subordinate to the dictator and his associates, are still operating in the country." Saakashvili has consistently stated his commitment to democracy since he won the 2004 election with 96% of the vote. Sarishvili also runs a foundation in Tbilisi for an opposition party leader and a former security minister, Igor Giorgadze, who is said to be living in Russia after fleeing Georgia in 1995, when he was accused of organizing an assassination attempt on then-president Eduard Shevardnadze. He has denied the claims. "Besides ordinary citizens atrociously killed by Interior Ministry officers, the circumstances of the death of Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania remain uninvestigated, and other citizens - members of parliament and the Tbilisi city assembly, political opponents of the regime - have been killed or brutally beaten," she said. Zhvania died from gas poisoning in February 2005. The incident was called a tragic accident but suspicions have remained with some camps accusing Russia's secret services of killing the premier and others claiming Saakhashvili's retinue may have been involved. Sarishvili said democratic freedoms were infringed upon in the republic, with newspapers and television companies working under censorship and peaceful rallies stopped by police. She added that anti-democratic amendments had been made to Georgia's constitution, election law and criminal code. Russia With Georgian-Russian relations at their lowest point for years after a "spying" scandal last week, Sarishvili also said the two former Soviet stable mates were being driven to a conflict by the West. After four Russian officers were detained in Tbilisi and charged with espionage last week, Russia suspended travel and postal links with Georgia, and threatened to freeze banking transactions with the southern neighbor. The sanctions remained in force even though Georgia released the Russian officers Monday. "I don't approve of the current relations between Russia and Georgia," she told a RIA Novosti news conference. "I belong to a political group that believes that Russia and Georgia are being driven to a conflict by the West." She explained that she meant the U.S. administration, which is accused by some of "exporting color revolutions" seen in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. The United States does have interests in Georgia, given its strategic location between the Black and Caspian seas, and an oil pipeline via the country from Azerbaijan to Turkey. Washington also rejected Wednesday a draft UN Security resolution tabled by Russia on Abkhazia, one of two self-proclaimed republics in Georgia, calling it "unfair and unbalanced." Since Saakashvili came to power in Georgia on the back of the "rose revolution," both the government and parliament have sought to remove Russian peacekeepers from conflict zones with the two self-proclaimed republics, and to force the withdrawal of Russian troops from two Soviet-era bases that should be completed by 2008.
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