Georgian TV's 'Russian invasion' report sparks panic

According to the newscast on 'Imedi' TV, controlled by the presidential administration, Russia invaded Georgia after a "terror attack" on Eduard Kokoity, President of Moscow recognised South Ossetian Republic.

The report suggested that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government had been evacuated.

Russia and Georgia had fought a four-day war in August 2008, when after a botched attempt to regain military control over the breakaway South Ossetia, Moscow moved troops into the former Soviet republic and captured its strategic town of Gori - the birthplace of Stalin.

Many viewers, missed a short warning that the 30-minute report was a mock-up, and rushed out onto the streets.

On the backdrop of 2008 footings of marching Russian tank columns the Imedi source "reported" the death of Saakashvili and creation of the People's government headed by one of the opposition leaders, Nino Burdzhanadze.

Burdzhanadze, a former Speaker of the Georgian Parliament and one-time ally of pro-US President Saakashvili, last month had visited Moscow for a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is also the Chairman of 'United Russia' ruling party, to ease tension between the two neighbours, who broke their diplomatic relations after 2008 conflict.
Many viewers missed a short warning that the thirty-minute report was a mock-up, and rushed out onto the streets.

The programme, which lasted for half an hour, also reported the "terrible bombardment" of the country's airports and ports and only at the end, Imedi presenters pointed out that this was a "special report about possible development of the events."

At the beginning of the broadcast there were also warnings that the programme showed a sequence of possible events that could only occur "if Georgian society is not brought together against Russia's plans."

Despite the warnings though, the report has caused panic across the country.
People began calling each other and the TV studio to find out what was really happening, RIA Novosti reported from Tbilisi.

Interfax news agency reported that many people called ambulances for help.
"Multiple instances of heart attacks and fainting have been reported," sources were quoted by Georgian media. Moreover, the action of the TV channel has caused a public outrage.

Several dozen people, including members of the opposition led by Nino Burdzhanadze and clergy, in front of Imedi TV office in Tbilisi to demand apologies for the report.
"Saakashvili might bring the country into a new provocation like he did it in August (2008), which will be ended tragically for the country," Burdzhanadze said.

Several hours after the report aired, Imedi apologised for the broadcast. "We apologise for the report, which has caused a major concern for the population," it said.
President Saakashvili has already said he did not approve of the channel's tactics, suggesting the producers make it clearer onscreen next time they pull a stunt like this.
Meanwhile, head of the Russian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev said the report is a provocation on the part of the Georgian regime.

"I am sure that today's provocation was initiated by the ruling regime, by Saakashvili," Kosachev said in an interview with TV Channel One. He pointed out that Imedi TV channel, which previously was in opposition to Saakashvili, is now controlled by the current Georgian president.

According to Kosachev, the Georgian authorities are increasing tensions around Russia and South Ossetia as they did before the August war in 2008. "We will certainly draw the international community's attention to this provocation."

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