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Georgia interior minister quits over jail abuse scandal

An outcry over a jail abuse scandal has forced Georgia's interior minister to resign just ten days before parliamentary elections in the Caucasus nation. Bacho Akhalaia said he accepted "political" responsibility.

The resignation of Georgia's interior minister on Thursday follows days of demonstrations after two opposition-linked television channels showed footage of male inmates being tortured and raped with objects.

Outgoing interior minister Akhalaia in a ministry website statement said: "I feel moral and political responsibility that we could not eradicate such horrible practices." Akhalaia had previously been prisons minister. His successor as prison minister has also resigned.

Outgoing Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia at a meeting in the parliament in Tbilisi, on July 3, 2012. Photo: VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/GettyImages)

The jail abuse scandal prompted Akhalaia's resignation

The European rights body, the Council of Europe, described the abuses depicted in the video content as "atrocities."

European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton joined the condemnation on Thursday, saying she was "appalled" by the violence shown.

Footage showed a weeping male prisoner inside Gldani prison in Tbilisi begging for mercy before being violated and another being kicked by prison guards.

Footage shown by rival's TV channel

One of the channels is owned by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvilli, whose opposition Georgian Dream coalition is challenging the ruling United National Movement of President Mikhail Saakashvilli in the election on October 1.

Initially, Saakashvilli's administration had claimed that the video had been staged and recorded by guards who had been bribed by "politically motivated persons."

Arrests made

Early on Wednesday, Saakashvilli said he would "not tolerate such behavior" in Georgia's prisons. Prosecutors said 10 people, including guards, have been arrested.

On Thursday, the president named Georgy Tugushi, previously Georgia's human rights ombudsman, as new prisons minister and said he was deploying police to jails to replace prison officers.

Georgian Dream has drawn large crowds during campaigning but still trails Saakashvilli's ruling movement in opinion polls.

The US embassy in Georgia has called on Saakashvilli's government to initiate an independent investigation into the jail abuses.

ipj/ccp (Reuter, AFP)

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