TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia's government accused the opposition on Monday of attempting to bribe police officers amid a prison abuse scandal that has heightened tensions in the ex-Soviet nation ahead of a fiercely contested parliamentary election next week.
The Interior Ministry said four opposition-linked suspects have been arrested. It said the suspects are linked to a candidate of the opposition Georgian Dream coalition that is challenging President Mikhail Saakashvili's party in the Oct. 1 vote.
The ministry alleged that the opposition tried to bribe police officers to resign in protest over the prison abuse scandal in order to increase pressure on the government.
The opposition dismissed the claims as a "fraudulent provocation."
"Lies and violence have been the main weapons of Saakashvili's government in the fight against political opponents and the Georgian people," it said in a statement. "An end to this violent policy will be put on Oct. 1."
Support for Saakashvili's party has been dented by graphic videos showing guards in the ex-Soviet nation brutally beating prisoners and raping them with truncheons and broom handles. Saakashvili has accused his main rival, billionaire philanthropist Bidzina Ivanishvili, of timing the release of the videos to the election — the allegations Ivanishvili has denied.
An opposition victory in the vote would make Ivanishvili Georgia's prime minister and Georgia's No. 1 leader starting next year when Saakashvili's second and final term ends, thanks to a political reform that will shift powers from the presidency to the parliament and the prime minister.
Saakashvili has sought to contain the damage by firing Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaya and the minister in charge of the penitentiary system. He also has completely reshuffled prison personnel, suspending all former guards and replacing them with regular police.
Despite his efforts to curtail public anger, students, who spearheaded last week's protests, returned to the streets of Tbilisi on Monday to continue pushing for Akhalaya to be prosecuted.
They also are demanding the dismissal of the justice minister.