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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Defense Minister Moved

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Friday switched his hard-line defense minister to another post on the eve of South Ossetia's independence referendum, on which the minister had taken a hawkish stand.

Irakli Okruashvili, 33, who has also launched sharp verbal attacks on Russia, was moving to the ministry of economic development after 11 months as defense minister, a top presidential aide said.

Okruashvili had taken a tough line on South Ossetia, where he was born, and earlier this year on a television talk show he even promised to ring in the new year there.

"Okruashvili created a lot of problems in different directions by his radical statements on Georgia's breakaway regions and Russia," independent, Tbilisi-based analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze said. "This move indicates Saakashvili's wish to show his support for peaceful policies."

Presidential chief of staff Georgy Arveladze declined to link Okruashvili's move to the South Ossetia ballot and said Okruashvili had been moved to bolster the economy ministry.