Former Georgian president ally becomes rival

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TBILISI, Sep 25 (Reuters) A former ally of Georgia's pro-western president joined the opposition today by launching a political party after police arrested several of his associates on corruption charges.

Hawkish ex defence minister Irakly Okruashvili formally broke with President Mikhail Saakashvili, establishing the ''For United Georgia'' party.

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry said police had arrested Saakashvili's press secretary Dmitry Kitoshvili -- an ally of Okruashvili's -- on suspicion of extortion.

Opposition figures said the arrest was a political attack on Okruashvili, who has clashed with Saakashvili over Tbilisi's stance on bringing Georgia's two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under its control.

''This is a politically motivated arrest,'' said Mamuka Katsitadze of the opposition New Right Party.

''We said they (officials close to Okruashvili) were corrupt a long time ago, however the arrests have only happened now.'' However, pro-Saakashvili Deputy Parliament Speaker Mikhail Machavariani said politics were not involved.

''I exclude any political motivation,'' he told Reuters.

After coming to power in a peaceful 2003 revolution, Saakashvili vowed to rein in the two regions, but pledged not to use force. He sacked Okruashvili in 2006 after the then-minister made tough statements supporting a military solution.

The future of the two Moscow-backed provinces, which broke away after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, is one of Georgia's most contested issues.

Okruashvili has accused Saakashvili of being too lenient.

''We have no other option but to take our case to public,'' Okruashvili told a news briefing.

Okruashvili has taken an equally hawkish stance in Georgia's relations with its former imperial master Russia, which have fallen to all-time lows under Saakashvili.


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