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Gelbakhiani surrenders at Armenian border

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, February 21
On Monday, wanted Georgian opposition figure Valeri Gelbakhiani surrendered to law enforcement at the Georgia-Armenia border, after a four-year search. Gelbakhiani, who was tried for treason in absentia, has been wanted by police since February 4, 2008.

Gelbakhiani was charged with plotting to overthrow the constitutional order. He previously served as the chief of staff for the late Georgian presidential candidate Badri Patarkatsishvili.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Gelbakhiani and former judge Marina Gabunia conspired to violently overthrow the government through protests and riots across Georgia. Their plot also included bribing government officials to gain access to, and detain, the Minister of Internal Affairs.

The plan was allegedly agreed upon with the consent of Patarkatsishvili.

Gelbakhianiís decision to return to Georgia and turn himself in was influenced by his motherís poor health. According to his son, Irakli, who was with his father at the border, Gelbakhiani is currently being held in Gldani prison #8. "He hopes that political parties, the diplomatic corps, and society reacts to his detention and assists him. He also hopes that sees his mother either alive or dead," the younger man remarked, noting that his grandmother is resting in a Sachkhere hospital.

Government representatives commented that this issue is the domain of law enforcement. "I can only say that all issues related to Gelbakhianiís detention... are the competence of the prosecutor's office and the court, thus making any comment by me would be [inappropriate],Ē majority member of Parliament, Pavle Kublashvili, said.

Leader of the Christian Democratic Movement, MP Giorgi Targamadze, demanded the immediate release of Gelbakhiani, saying that his party is ready to post bail. He called the arrest "a political pursuit carried out by the current regime and not a legal action". Targamadze also noted that any Georgian would return home, regardless of criminal charges, if their motherís health was at stake.

MP Jondi Baghaturia also believes that Gelbakhiani and Patarkatsishvili are innocent, but criticized the Christian-Democrats for failing to support his earlier calls for investigation.

Opposition movement The Whites have also come out in support of Gelbakhiani, saying that the government's allegations are groundless and that the authorities regularly threaten their opponents with similar actions.

Movement Georgian Dream, also expressed interest regarding the issue and mentioned that its lawyers would observe the process.