Georgia: Georgia`s pro-Western defence minister Irakli Alasania was sacked on Tuesday and a raft of corruption charges were brought against officials in his ministry, threatening the imminent collapse of the government.
The surprise move, announced by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, was seen as an attack on the faction that supported closer ties with the West.
"In order to avoid politicisation of the Georgian armed forces and of the Ministry of Defence and in order to provide relevant conditions for an independent investigation, I have decided to dismiss the defence minister," Garibashvili said in a statement.
It came shortly after corruption charges were brought against several high-ranking Defence Ministry officials.
Alasania has pushed for the former Soviet state to join NATO and the EU. He described the charges as "groundless and politically motivated" and "an attack on Georgia`s Euro-Atlantic choice".
"We are dealing with a deliberate attack against the Defence Ministry, which is a direct link in our country`s chain with NATO and the European Union," Alasania told a press conference.
Alexi Petriashvili, the minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and a close ally of Alasania, resigned in protest.
Other members of his Free Democrats party, including the deputy prime minister and the ministers of justice and foreign affairs, are expected to follow suit.
"Dictatorship is coming to Georgia, our democracy is in danger," said Petriashvili.
Georgia`s pro-Western president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, also denounced the "political confrontation that endangers the functioning of state institutions and the country`s Euro-Atlantic integration."
A source in Georgian Dream told AFP that the Free Democrats would go into opposition, leaving the coalition without a majority in parliament.
Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that Alasania, who leads the Free Democrats, is the most popular politician within the ruling coalition.
Georgian Dream, a coalition of parties assembled by former prime minister and billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, came to power in October 2012, ending the decade-long rule of the pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement party.
Ivanishvili stepped down in 2013 and chose his protege Garibashvili, 31, to take over as premier, but the tycoon is widely believed to wield power over the tiny Caucasus nation behind the scenes.
Alasania was replaced as defence minister on Tuesday night by the little-known 36-year-old secretary of the state security and crisis management council, Mindia Janelidze.