Defence minister quits Georgia amid prosecution fears
TBILISI - Agence France-Presse
Members of the new Georgian Parliament listen to President Mikheil Saakashvili during the first session in Kutaisi (250 km. From Tbilisi), Georgia 21 October 2012. EPA photoGeorgia's outgoing defence minister said Monday that he had quit the country as speculation simmered of potential prosecutions of former officials under the ex-Soviet state's new government.
"I have taken the decision to leave Georgia with the hope that I will come back and will have the possibility to serve my country and my people again," Dimitri Shashkin said on his Facebook page, without naming his current whereabouts.
Shashkin was defence minister before the bitterly-fought October 1 polls that saw President Mikheil Saakashvili's long dominant ruling party defeated by a coalition led by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
He formally remains acting minister until a new cabinet is confirmed on Thursday.
Shashkin said he had "absolutely differing values" from Ivanishvili's coalition and warned people not to give credit to any "unbelievable stories" that might emerge about him in the near future.
One of Ivanishvili's top allies said Monday that there would be no "political persecution" of former officials but those who had broken the law would not escape justice.
"I understand those people who committed crimes and know it. This is why they are fleeing and looking for asylum," Sozar Subari, who is set to become prisons minister in the new government, told journalists.
Close Saakashvili ally Shashkin has held the defence minister post since July. He previously served as education minister and in 2009 oversaw Georgia's much criticised prisons system.
Videos showing the torture of male prisoners that were released during the recent election campaign caused a national scandal and seriously damaged Saakashvili's party.
Shashkin insisted in his statement that during his tenure as prisons minister numerous successful reforms were initiated which reduced violence in jails and cut the number of inmates' deaths.
Unconfirmed rumours have been swirling through Georgian media that several other officials in Saakashvili's former government have also left the country, at least temporarily.