The Georgian government moved on Saturday to calm public fears of a Russian invasion sparked by a fake television news report intended to illustrate a studio discussion on the chance of a fresh conflict.
"I can say with confidence that, on the declaration of the president, real danger, which was imagined in the transmission...does not currently exist for our country," a spokeswoman for President Mikheil Saakashvili said.
Manana Manjgaladze rushed to the studios of Imedi TV, which had carried the staged report, to join the subsequent discussion on a possible Russian invasion and murder of Saakashvili.
She criticized the channel for not making greater efforts to alert viewers to the fact that the report was not true, expressing her anger that she like many others watching had missed the disclaimer.
"I believe that when preparing such a broadcast, it should be accompanied by a warning on the screen showing that it is...a reenactment. This inscription should have been on the screen throughout the transmission," Manjgaladze said.
The broadcast, which used the channel's normal news graphics, began with a warning that the program showed a sequence of possible events that could occur "if Georgian society is not brought together against Russia's plans."
"We start the broadcast on account of the dangers that politicians and experts systematically discuss," the presenter said ahead of a news item about the supposed invasion and murder of Saakashvili.
The news item included clips of panicked residents trying to flee Tbilisi and reported that there was panic in Gori, Mtskheta and other regions.
The staged images and words rung true, however, when viewers who did not see the introduction took the report at face value. People from all over the country began to call each other and the TV studio to find out what was really happening.
Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia recognized as independent in August 2008 after its forces repelled a Georgian attack on the latter republic, dismissed the TV channel's stunt.
Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh called the fake news report "tremendous idiocy" that warranted no attention at all.
"Everything is peaceful here, we are going about our own business," he told RIA Novosti.
"If someone wants to show Russia as an aggressor, it will not work," Bagapsh added. "There is one aggressor in the Caucasus - Georgia under the leadership of Saakashvili."
South Ossetia also dismissed the broadcast and subsequent panic.
"We do not consider it necessary to comment on the ravings of Georgian television," South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioyev told RIA Novosti.
Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, called the broadcast "criminal" and declared that in the wake of Friday's meeting of the NATO-Georgia council it should show the military alliance not to deal with Saakashvili.
"Through lies and shocking provocations, Saakashvili continues to play off the fraternal peoples of Russia and Georgia," Rogozin said, calling the Georgian president "a very sick and dangerous man."
TBILISI, March 13 (RIA Novosti)