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Georgian cabinet fired in raid row

Shevardnadze says he will step down if other ministers are forced to quit  

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has sacked his entire government in a bid to stave off a political crisis over media freedom.

"The decision has been taken," presidential press secretary Kakha Imnadze told Reuters on Thursday.

Parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania said: "Our task now is to ease tension in the city and prompt the demonstrators to disperse."

The Associated Press reported that Zhvania too was resigning.

"I have made my decision," Zhvania told parliament.

"Let us start consultations on finding a candidate for a new parliament speaker, who I think will be elected on Tuesday. And let us begin consultations as quickly as possible about the line-up of a new cabinet."

Zhvania said that the "president must keep his office," and told demonstrators outside parliament: "We are not struggling for power."

The crisis has been prompted by a botched raid on independent television station Rustavi-2, a sharp critic of the president.

The team of 30 agents were acting on a warrant which alleged that the crusading TV station had evaded taxes.

But they were forced to retreat after being denied entry by the company director.

The operation was witnessed by hundreds of Rustavi supporters who claimed the state was trying to silence critical media.

Shevardnadze has since maintained that the raid had nothing to do with other government departments and was not a sign of state interference in independent media.

"There is no threat to freedom of speech in Georgia," Shevardnadze said. "It is inviolable."

But he criticised staff at Rustavi 2 for defying a court order to open their financial records for examination, although he admitted that Kutateladze's "methods ... were not very well thought of."

Following the raid, Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze lost his job but there were demands that Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze and Prosecutor General Gii Meparishvili also quit, AP reported.

Appearing before parliament on Thursday, Targamadze tersely announced that he had submitted his resignation to the president. He then walked out of the chamber.

Meparishvili told parliament that he, too, was resigning. He was not part of the Cabinet.

Shevardnadze had said on Wednesday he would feel morally obliged to stand down if parliament voted during Thursday's emergency session to call for the heads of the interior minister and prosecutor general as well.


• President of Georgia

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