Georgian prosecutors charge ex-president Saakashvili

TBILISI Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:21am EDT

Former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili addresses members of a Batkivshchyna party during a meeting in central Kiev, March 29, 2014.   REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili addresses members of a Batkivshchyna party during a meeting in central Kiev, March 29, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

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TBILISI (Reuters) - The prosecutor's office in Georgia has filed criminal charges against former President Mikhail Saakashvili in what the opposition says is a political witch-hunt by the ex-Soviet republic's new leaders.

Dozens of former officials, including a former prime minister, have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power and corruption since Saakashvili's party lost an election two years ago.

Saakashvili was charged with exceeding his authority but left the South Caucasus country of 4.5 million after his second presidency ended last November.

Other charges against him relate to the use of force to break up a protest in the capital Tbilisi in November 2007 and to a raid on a television station.

Saakashvili, 46, had failed to appear at the prosecutor's office on Monday after being summoned for questioning for the second time in four months.

"I will obviously not take part in this farce," Saakashvili, who became president in 2004 after the bloodless "Rose Revolution", wrote on his Facebook page.

He warned that making former officials the target of the Georgian Dream ruling coalition's political "revenge" would strain Georgia's relations with its Western allies.

The former president, who was an ally of the United States, also said that legal proceedings against him were aimed at "pleasing Russia," with whom Georgia fought a brief war in 2008.

Leaders of Georgian Dream, which ousted Saakashvili's party at the polls, denies the prosecution of former officials is political and promise a fair trial.

But Western countries have expressed concern that the new government has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents in Georgia, which is crossed by pipelines that carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe and is the focus of geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West.

Saakashvili's allies say the arrest of former leaders is politically motivated and are concerned that it could deter much-needed investment.

"This process is aimed at destroying the United National Movement (Saakashvili's party) ... It's very bad for our country's image," Georgy Gabashvili, an opposition lawmaker, said.

(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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