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Controversial interior minister in running for Georgia PM

Controversial interior minister in running for Georgia PM

Tbilisi: Georgia's ruling party put forward controversial Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia as prime minister Tuesday, further fuelling an already tense political atmosphere in the tiny Black Sea nation.

In a televised statement, the ruling Georgian Dream party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili -- a billionaire oligarch widely believed to be the man in charge in Georgia -- said he "presented the candidacy of Giorgi Gakharia to the post of prime minister".

The nomination still needs to be approved by parliament, where Georgian Dream holds a majority.

The announcement followed Monday's surprise resignation of premier Mamuka Bakhtadze after just over a year in office.

In June and July, thousands rallied in Tbilisi demanding Gakharia's departure after riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas against a largely peaceful anti-Russian protest.

Dozens were injured in the violent police crackdown, with several people losing an eye.

The summer protests started after a Russian MP gave a speech in the Georgian parliament -- seen as a provocative move in the Caucasus country whose ties with Moscow remain strained after a brief war in 2008.

Moscow reacted to what it called "Russophobic" protests by suspending direct flights between the countries.

The rallies then evolved into a broader movement against Ivanishvili amid widespread anger at his party's failure to kickstart a stagnant economy and Georgia's perceived democratic backsliding.

Gakharia, 44, was appointed as Georgia's deputy prime minister and interior minister in 2017. He previously worked in Russia as a regional director of the German aviation company Lufthansa. He is a graduate of Moscow's Lomonosov University.

Announcing his resignation on Monday, Bakhtadze said he had "accomplished his mandate of creating the strategic framework of Georgia's development."

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