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    Lawyers of ex-Georgian defense minister demand his release

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    Lawyers representing the ex-Georgian defense minister accused by Tbilisi of a number of crimes, demanded his release Tuesday and called for Georgia's extradition request to be turned down.

    TBILISI, January 29 (RIA Novosti) - Lawyers representing the ex-Georgian defense minister accused by Tbilisi of a number of crimes, demanded his release Tuesday and called for Georgia's extradition request to be turned down.

    Irakly Okruashvili was reported to have stopped his hunger strike Monday that he announced in protest at what he called the fraudulent presidential elections in Georgia in early January.

    The leaders of the For United Georgia party established by Okruashvili recently met with the French ambassador to Georgia urging assistance in granting Okrushvili political asylum in France and refusing Georgia's extradition request, a party spokesman said.

    "At the meeting, the party leaders asked Okruashvili to be released before February 27, as a hearing on Okruashvili's extradition and his political asylum request will start on that day," the source said.

    A court hearing set to consider the demand by Okruashvili defense that the ex-minister be released before February 27 will be held January 30. Lawyers have said Okruashvili will not disappear and will attend all court hearings.

    Okruashvili, once a key ally of newly re-elected Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, is currently in a French jail after he was extradited from Germany, where he was arrested last November at the request of Georgian authorities.

    He has been charged by the Caucasus state with abuse of office, money laundering and corruption and is currently seeking political asylum in France.

    The former Georgian defense minister was deported on January 9 from Germany to France, where he was issued a Schengen visa, after he requested political asylum in Berlin.

    Under an agreement between countries within the Schengen visa-free zone, a request for political asylum is reviewed by the country that issued the visa to the person making the asylum claim.

    Okruashvili was initially arrested in Georgia in September last year after publicly accusing President Saakashvili of ordering the murders of political opponents and of plotting to seize a breakaway region. He later denied the accusations, and was released on $6 million bail. He subsequently fled Georgia.

    Okruashvili's accusations sparked mass street protests in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in early November. Saakashvili called early elections to defuse the situation after riot police brutally dispersed protesters and a state of emergency was briefly imposed. Saakashvili then won the January 5 snap elections with 53% of the vote.

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