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Georgian President Replaces Defense Minister


Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has announced a cabinet reshuffle, replacing Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili.

Georgian officials confirm that Financial Police director Davit Kezerashvili is taking over the defense post, while Okruashvili is taking over the economic development portfolio.

The officials say Petre Tsiskarishvili is taking over as agriculture minister, replacing Mikhail Simonishvili, who becomes presidential envoy to the Guria district in western Georgia.

The officials gave no reason for the changes. But they follow weeks of growing tension with neighboring Russia after Georgian authorities in September briefly arrested four Russian military officers on spy charges.

Moscow responded by cutting transportation and postal links with Georgia. Russia also expelled scores of Georgians from Moscow and closed their businesses.

The shuffle also comes days before Sunday's scheduled independence referendum in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The breakaway region has run its own affairs without international recognition since forcing Georgian government forces from the area in the early 1990s.

Georgia has vowed to bring the region back under its control, and has accused Russia of supporting and encouraging the separatist movement there.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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