Okruashvili Asked for Asylum

APSaakashvili, who is running for a new term, meeting coal miners in Tkibuli, a town west of Tbilisi, late last week.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian opposition leader Irakly Okruashvili applied for asylum in Germany days before police arrested him in a Berlin hotel on a request from Georgia's government.

Okruashvili, 34, a former defense minister, had previously said he wanted to return to Georgia to face charges of corruption.

"He applied for political asylum in Germany before the arrest. Legal procedures regarding this request have not been finished," Eka Beselia, Okruashvili's lawyer, said Friday. "It confirms the fact that Okruashvili is a victim of political repression."

Germany's office for migration and refugees confirmed that Okruashvili had applied for asylum but declined to give further details.

German police arrested Okruashvili on Wednesday following an extradition request. The Georgians have 40 days to file full extradition documents to the German authorities. Georgian police arrested Okruashvili on corruption charges in September, just days after he accused President Mikheil Saakashvili of economic theft and plotting murder, charges Saakashvili denies. Okruashvili later was released on $6 million bail, and he immediately left for Germany, where he repeated his allegations.

His arrest sparked the biggest street protests against the government since a peaceful revolution in 2003. Police cleared protesters off Tbilisi's streets using tear gas and rubber bullets, and Saakashvili called an early presidential election for Jan. 5. He was to step down Sunday to start campaigning.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Salome Zurabishvili said Friday that the presidential election would not be free and fair. Zurabishvili was France's ambassador to Georgia before joining Saakashvili's government, but she was fired after less than two years.