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Georgia's controversial interior minister poised to become next PM

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FILE PHOTO: Georgian Prime Minister Bakhtadze addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg
FILE PHOTO: Georgian Prime Minister Bakhtadze addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg -
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The ruling Georgian Dream party has nominated Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia on Tuesday for the post of prime minister, the party's chairman said, amid controversy over his handling of anti-Kremlin protests earlier this year.

The nomination comes after Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze announced his resignation on Monday after little more than a year in the job.

"I am confident that Parliament will approve [Gakharia's] candidacy," said party leader and multimillionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in a press conference this morning.

Georgian Dream currently holds an absolute majority of 106 seats out of 150 in the parliament.

Gakharia's nomination angered the opposition, which has repeatedly accused the country's top cop of using excessive force against protesters.

"Gakharia is guilty of the brutal dispersion of the June 20 protest in Tbilisi. His promotion amounts to a slap in the face of the people of Georgia," said Zaal Udumashvili of the opposition party United National Movement.

Shota Dighmelashvili, one of the organisers of the protest movement, said on Facebook the nomination would galvanise protesters and trigger even bigger rallies.

ასე არ გამოვა. თუ ივანიშვილი დააწინაურებს ადამიანს, რომელიც პირადად არის პასუხისმგებელი მშვიდობიანი მანიფესტანტების...

Publiée par Shota Dighmelashvili sur Lundi 2 septembre 2019

The government said police were right to use force as protesters were trying to storm parliament.

Bakhtadze's warning

On Monday Bakhtadze said on Facebook he was stepping down because he had accomplished what he set out to do in the job.

"A strategic development framework has been created, implemented, and I have therefore decided to resign because I believe that I have fulfilled my mission at this stage," Bakhtadze wrote.

შარშან, საქართველოს პრემიერ-მინისტრის პოსტზე დამტკიცებისას, ქართულ საზოგადოებას წარვუდგინე 5 პრინციპი, რომელიც ჩვენი...

Publiée par მამუკა ბახტაძე Mamuka Bakhtadze sur Lundi 2 septembre 2019

Bakhtadze also warned Georgia's internal divisions would play into Russia's hands: "...we must always remember that the only one who will win from the polarisation of Georgian society will be an occupying country," he said.

Georgia fought and lost a short war with Russia in 2008, prompting the countries to cut diplomatic ties. Russia went on to recognise the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions where it now has troops garrisoned.

Ties with Russia are therefore a politically divisive issue and a rally outside parliament this summer when a visiting Russian lawmaker addressed the chamber from the speaker's chair, descended into violent clashes with police.

Parliamentary elections are due in October next year.