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The News in Brief

Thursday, February 7

Gelbakhiani’s lawyer says incriminating videotape was forged

By Shorena Labadze

Yesterday a lawyer for Valeri Gelbakhiani, who with billionaire former presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili is charged in an alleged coup plot, said he will present proof that authorities’ evidence against his client is forged.

Authorities released a secretly-recorded videotape in late December of Gelbakhiani, then an MP and head of Patarkatsishvili’s presidential campaign, apparently detailing plans for a post-election coup to a top Interior Ministry official.

In an open statement to parliament Gelbakhiani insisted he was innocent, claiming the tape was edited to frame him.

He never said explicit words like “coup” or “overthrow” on the tape, Gelbakhiani pointed out.

Gelbakhiani’s defense has been mostly unaccompanied by legal arguments so far, but yesterday his lawyer, Shalva Khachapuridze, said there is evidence to prove that Gelbakhiani is innocent.

“No newspapers have the space for all the information we have, so we’ll distribute bits of it day by day in the print media as well as on television,” Khachapuridze promised. “The whole process will be topped off with a film describing the facts surrounding Valeri Gelbakhiani’s case.”

A spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office said they have not received any new information about the case.

Gelbakhiani was formally charged on January 22 with plotting to overthrow the government; the next week, a parliamentary committee voted to strip the lawmaker of his MP’s credentials, allowing prosecutors to search his property for evidence.

Khachapuridze says his client—now effectively a fugitive—is abroad, with no immediate plans to return.

At least five new ambassadors to be appointed

Georgia is replacing its ambassadors to Russia, China, Italy, France and Switzerland, the parliamentary committee on foreign relations announced.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has reportedly decided on the new ambassadors.

Co-founder of television station Rustavi 2 Eorsi Kitsmarishvili is to become the new ambassador to Russia. Tbilisi City Council chair Zaza Begashvili will take the ambassadorship to China. Former head of the presidential protocol service Giorgi Gorgiladze will become ambassador to Italy and ex-Guria governor Mikheil Svimonishvili will be posted to Switzerland.

The previous ambassador to Switzerland, Levan Mikeladze, resigned in protest of the government’s action on November 7 2007, when riot police violently cracked down on demonstrators in the capital.

It is reported that the ambassador to France is also on his way out, although no replacement has yet been named. (Black Sea Press)

Georgia to host Picasso exhibition

The French embassy and the Dumas Center are jointly organizing an exhibition of paintings by Pablo Picasso in Georgia, while an exhibition of renowned Georgian painter Niko Pirosmani will open in France this spring.

The French ambassador said the Picassos would be shown in the eastern tourist town of Sighnaghi. (Prime News)

Rotation of Georgian troops in Iraq

On February 5, 2000 Georgian military personnel returned to Georgia from Iraq.

The 3rd Infantry Brigade has been serving in Al-Kut, patrolling the Iraq-Iran border, since July 2007. (Prime News)

Russian embassy refutes Georgian reports on granting tourist visas

The Russian embassy in Tbilisi issued a statement refuting Georgian media reports that the embassy is now giving all categories of Russian visas to Georgian citizens.

An embassy press person said the granting of visas was suspended in September 2006, and resumed in June 2007 only for student, business, work and transit visas.

“The exception is tourist visas to the Russian Federation. If we started granting tourist visas, we would inform the press about this fact because it is an urgent issue for Georgia,” the press person said. (Black Sea Press)

Freedom Party accuses police of murdering one of its activists

The Freedom Party has accused police of murdering one of its activists, Tengiz Gogia, in a special operation.

Gogia died on February 3 at his home in Senaki in Samegrelo region, western Georgia, regional coordinator of the Freedom movement Kakha Mikia said at a February 5 press conference.

“According to officials Gogia committed suicide, but we have reliable information that he was killed by special forces when they stormed his residence,” Mikia stated.

He added that Gogia’s mother was not permitted to enter the house for eight hours. “During this time fragments were taken out of his body,” Mikia said, claiming that Gogia was targeted by the authorities because of his active involvement in the Freedom Party campaign during the recent presidential election. (Black Sea Press)