Mutiny, coup plot thwarted, says Georgian government
Soldiers mutinied at a base near the Georgian capital on Tuesday, according to the country's government, as the Interior Ministry said it foiled a coup plot backed by neighbouring Russia — a claim that was immediately denied by Moscow.
Speaking in a televised address, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called the mutiny of several hundred army personnel of a tank batallion at a base in Mukhrovani, about 30 kilometres from the capital Tbilisi, a "serious threat."
But Saakashvili, who has been under pressure from opposition supporters to resign since Georgia's disastrous five-day conflict with Russia in 2008, insisted it was an "isolated" incident and the situation in the country is fully under control.
Shortly after the president spoke, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told Reuters by telephone that the mutiny was over and the base commander had been arrested.
Georgian government officials said the mutiny was part of an alleged coup plot, which included plans for Saakashvili's assassination.
Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the suspected plot was organized by a former special forces commander, Georgy Gvaladze. Gvaladze and an army officer on active duty have been arrested, the spokesman said.
The coup plotters, backed by 5,000 Russian troops, were planning to disrupt NATO military exercises set to begin Wednesday in Georgia, Utiashvili said. He added the government was aware of the plans for the past two months.
Russia denied any involvement, with Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoting a senior Russian security official as dismissing Georgia's allegations as "delirium."
Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow's envoy to NATO, told Reuters on Tuesday that the allegations are an attempt by the Western-backed Saakashvili and his government to distract from an "all-embracing political and economic crisis" in Georgia.
The two countries briefly went to war in August 2008 when Russia sent troops into South Ossetia in response to a Georgian offensive aimed at regaining control of the province, which had broken away in the early 1990s.
The Russian troops quickly routed the Georgian military and then pushed into Georgian territory. Each side accused the other of war crimes before a French-brokered ceasefire suspended the five-day conflict.
The Kremlin has since recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
With files from The Associated Press