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Georgian Official Steps Down Over Alleged Prison Abuse

  • VOA News

Georgian demonstrators carry a state flag during a protest rally against prison abuse in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 20, 2012

Georgian demonstrators carry a state flag during a protest rally against prison abuse in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sept. 20, 2012

Georgia's interior minister has resigned, amid continuing protests over alleged prisoner abuse that was filmed and aired on Georgian television this week.

Bacho Akhalaia said in a statement Thursday that he is resigning because he feels personal responsibility that he failed to eradicate what he called the "horrible" practice of torture in prisons. Before taking his most recent position, Akhalaia was the official who oversaw Georgia's prisions.

Akhalaia's resignation was a concession to demonstrators who have been marching since the videotaped abuses aired late Tuesday. They had been demanding he step down.

President Mikhail Saakashvili has appointed Georgia's public defender, Giorgi Tugushi, to oversee Georgia's prison system. Tugushi has vowed to make radical changes to the system, and to protect prisoners from further abuse.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton released a statement Thursday saying she is "appalled" by the footage, calling it "shocking." She noted that all countries are obliged to comply with the unconditional prohibition of any form of torture or ill-treatment.

On Wednesday, Saakashvili vowed to punish those responsible for the incidents. The Interior Ministry has blamed the president's opponents for organizing and filming the abuses ahead of parliamentary elections.

The government said in a statement Wednesday that it has made a number of arrests in connection with the abuses.

Saakashvili's supporters face a stiff fight from the opposition bloc known as Georgian Dream, led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
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