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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Renews Corruption Claims

ReutersThousands of opposition supporters chanting during a rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Former Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said he was forced to retract corruption allegations against President Mikheil Saakashvili and renewed the claims.

Okruashvili, who called himself a "political refugee," made the remarks from Munich, Germany, according to private TV channel Imedi, which broadcast the speech live onto a big screen at a demonstration outside the parliament Monday night.

Thousands of protesters, who have been calling for Saakashvili's resignation in street protests since last week, watched the address. Okruashvili's initial accusations against the president, including a purported plot to murder a prominent businessman, Badri Patarkatsishvili, helped ignite the protests, plunging the country into political turmoil.

Okruashvili, a former Saakashvili ally who was dismissed as defense minister last year, was arrested after making the claims in September. He told the crowd that he was forced to retract the accusations while in custody. He was later freed on a multimillion-dollar bail.

"All the accusations that I made toward Saakashvili before my arrest are the truth," Okruashvili said. "I apologize for the statements I was forced to make while under arrest, for the fact that I had to retract my words and in doing so failed to live up to the hopes of many."

He did not say how he was forced to make the retraction.

A day after his arrest, thousands of supporters of a newly united opposition rallied. Daily protests outside the parliament since Friday have posed the biggest challenge to Saakashvili since his landslide election after the Rose Revolution four years ago.

Okruashvili, known for bellicose language when he was defense minister, called Saakashvili a "modern Hitler" and urged Georgians to "unite to get rid of the black calamity that is Saakashvili." He called himself a "political refugee" but said he would not seek asylum abroad and that he hoped to return to Georgia soon.

Friday's protest drew about 100,000 people, and smaller crowds have turned up every day since, with several demonstrators remaining overnight. The size of the crowd reached about 20,000 on Monday.

Saakashvili has rejected their demands, saying the parliamentary elections would be held as planned and that -- far from stepping down -- he would run for a second term in a presidential vote expected in late 2008. He suggested that Russia was fomenting the unrest.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described Saakashvili's comments as a "farce."

Prosecutors said Tuesday that Okruashvili was being less than truthful.

"Okruashvili's statement that he had been pressured while in jail is another lie," Deputy Prosecutor General Nika Gvaramia told reporters.

He sternly reminded Okruashvili that he still faced charges at home.

"If Okruashvili does not appear in Georgia on the first demand of the Prosecutor General's Office, his 10 million lari [$6 million] bail will be transferred to the state budget and a search for him begun," he said.

AP, Reuters