TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili sacked his defense minister on Tuesday hours after he criticized the arrests of several officials in his ministry as politically motivated and aimed at those who favor better relations with the West.
Defense Minister Irakly Alasania, one of the most pro-Western ministers in the coalition government, earlier denounced the detention of one former and four serving defense ministry officials last week, as well as new charges against several army medical officers on Tuesday.
"I want to unambiguously state that this is obviously politically motivated," Alasania, whose Free Democrats party is in the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, told reporters.
"I want to clearly state that this is an attack on Georgia's Euro-Atlantic choice," he said, referring to Georgia's stated interest in joining NATO and its recent trade deal with the European Union.
"This is an attack on the structure, which ... is distinguished by its successful reforms and is distinguished on the path of achieving this foreign policy goal," he said.
Garibashvili called Alasania's remarks "irresponsible."
The State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alexy Petriashvili, also from the Free Democrats, said after the announcement he will send his resignation letter to Garibashvili on Wednesday.
Western countries have expressed concern that Georgia's government, first formed under billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, has used selective justice and political persecution against opponents.
The defense ministry officials placed in pre-trial detention were from the procurement department and the general staff's communications and IT unit. Prosecutors have charged them with misspending over 4 million lari ($2.3 million) in a suspected sham tender to lay fiber optic cables last year.
Lawyers said their clients denied the charges and planned to appeal against their detention. The defense ministry said in a statement it had carried out the procurement "in full compliance with Georgian legislation".
Garibashvili said Mindia Janelidze, a secretary of the state security and crisis management council at the premier's office and a close ally, would replace Alasania as defense minister.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)