Georgians slam invasion report

TBILISI; Outraged Georgians today slammed a local television channel that sparked panic by broadcasting a faked report announcing that Russia had launched an invasion and the country’s president was dead.

The Georgian opposition condemned the newscast as a state-sponsored stunt aimed at smearing President Mikheil Saakashvili’s critics while the president himself added to the furore by appearing to defend the broadcast.

The report, aired last night on privately owned Imedi television, said Russian tanks were headed for the capital Tbilisi, Saakashvili had been killed and that some opposition leaders had sided with invading forces.

“It was indeed a very unpleasant programme but the most unpleasant thing is that it is extremely close to what can happen and to what Georgia’s enemy has conceived,” Saakashvili said in televised remarks.

Local news agencies said the programme provoked widespread alarm, a record number of calls to emergency services and multiple incidents of heart attacks and fainting, though officials

today said no deaths had been reported.

The report showed footage taken from the August 2008 war that saw Russian troops pour into Georgia and bomb targets across the country.

A brief notice before the report said it was a “simulation” of possible events but the report itself appeared genuine.

Opposition leader Nino Burjanadze said the newscast was government-sponsored propaganda.

Government officials denied any advance knowledge of the report and denounced it as irresponsible.

Imedi apologised for

airing the fake programme, but not before outraged

Georgian citizens launched campaigns condemning the local TV channel.