Okruashvili Granted Asylum

PARIS -- France has granted political asylum to former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was convicted last month of extortion in his home country, his lawyers said Wednesday.

Supporters of Okruashvili, who was dismissed from the Cabinet in 2006, say Georgian authorities targeted him because he has been critical of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili since the dismissal.

Okruashvili's lawyers welcomed the decision on Tuesday of the French agency for political refugees to grant him asylum in France.

"It's a very good decision, good news," lawyer Christine Martineau said.

The French Foreign Ministry would not comment on the reasons for the asylum decision but called for dialogue between the Georgian leadership and the opposition before legislative elections in May.

"We continue to encourage the Georgian authorities to reinforce media freedom and pluralism and the independence of the justice system," ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said in an online briefing Wednesday.