Georgia ends army mutiny

TBILISI: Georgian troops mutinied on Tuesday on the eve of NATO exercises in the ex-Soviet republic, prompting the government to accuse Russia of backing an attempted coup, including a plan to kill the president.

But the shortlived rebellion ended peacefully when most of the mutineers surrendered, the interior ministry said.

"It's over. Most of the people have surrendered, including the commander of the battalion. A few people have escaped," ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP.

"There was no violence whatsoever," he added.

President Mikheil Saakashvili said the situation was "under control" after an attempt at a "large-scale mutiny".

Defence Minister David Sikharulidze said troops of a tank battalion at the Mukhrovani base had launched a "rebellion," just days ahead of Georgia's hosting of a series of NATO exercises later this week.

The mutiny was aimed at "disrupting NATO exercises and overturning the authorities militarily," Sikharulidze told Rustavi-2 television.

The interior ministry said it had uncovered a plot for an "armed uprising" among some defence ministry units and that Russia was involved.

"The plan was coordinated with Russia, at a minimum to disrupt NATO military exercises and at a maximum to organise a large-scale military rebellion in Georgia," Utiashvili said earlier.

"We have information that the rebels were in direct contact with Russians, that they were receiving orders from them, that they were receiving money from them."

Utiashvili said two suspects had been arrested and that the plot included a plan to assassinate Saakashvili.

Georgian television showed footage of several dozen armoured vehicles reportedly heading for Mukhrovani base, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) outside Tbilisi.

Rustavi-2 television reported that Saakashvili had gone personally to the base to negotiate with the mutineers.

"The plan was to stage a large-scale mutiny in Tbilisi and to take steps against the sovereignty of Georgia and the Georgian government's European and Euro-Atlantic integration," Saakashvili said in a televised address.

"The situation is under control. There is order and calm in all other military units," Saakashvili said.

"I demand from our northern neighbour that it refrain from provocations," he added.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, told the Interfax news agency that the accusations against Moscow were "insane."

"We have slowly grown accustomed to insane accusations from Georgia's political and military leaders," he said. "What is taking place now is the total collapse of the Georgian army and the Georgian state."

Georgia has been experiencing political instability in recent weeks with opposition groups attempting to force Saakashvili's resignation. Opposition supporters have been rallying in the capital for nearly a month to demand his resignation.

Protest organisers had been due to start a new campaign of blocking key highways in the country Tuesday, but an opposition spokeswoman, Sopho Jajanashvili, said the action had been cancelled. Opposition leaders were to make a statement on the situation later.

Georgia is preparing to host NATO exercises from Wednesday that have been condemned as provocative by Russia, which last year fought a brief war with Georgia over the rebel South Ossetia region.

The month-long war games are to involve more than 1,100 soldiers from more than a dozen NATO countries in "crisis response" command and field exercises.