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Terrorism & Security

Russian invasion hoax has Georgia opposition in uproar

A fake TV report in Georgia that claimed a Russian invasion was in progress and that President Mikhael Saakashvili had been killed has drawn fury from citizens and the political opposition.

By Ben HancockCorrespondent / March 15, 2010

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili speaks during his meeting with the residents of the Rachisubani settlement, 31 miles south-west of the capital Tbilisi, Sunday. Georgians have been panicked by a hoax television news program announcing a Russian invasion.

Irakly Gedenidze/Presidential Press Service/AP

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(Update: Georgian opposition leader slams hoax in a Monitor interview.)

A fake news report in Georgia about a Russian invasion ignited widespread panic and now anger at the perpetrators.

The 20-minute broadcast Saturday night on the Imedi TV station showed footage of tanks rolling into Georgia taken from the 2008 invasion and said that Saakashvili had been assassinated. The station introduced the program as a simulation, but many who tuned in mid-way were convinced the news was real.

The Georgian opposition, depicted in the broadcast as assisting the fake Russian invasion, accused President Mikhael Saakashvili of signing off on the program in a bid to stoke fear and tarnish their image. The director of Imedi is a former Saakashvili government official. US and Russian officials have denounced the bogus report (see video clips from the report below)

“People went into a panic,” Bidzina Baratashvili, a former director of Imedi, told The New York Times, comparing the mock news broadcast to Orson Welles’s 1939 adaptation of “War of the Worlds,” which depicted an alien invasion and panicked many radio listeners.

People in villages bordering South Ossetia, which was invaded in the brief Russo-Georgian war two years ago, began evacuati and calls to emergency services skyrocketed, reports The Georgian Times. According to other reports, people placed emergency calls reporting heart attacks and rushed in a panic to buy bread.

The Imedi video misled not only ordinary people but also other media outlets, which took the video for reality. Channel 1 interrupted its scheduled programs for several minutes showing a live broadcast from its news studio while the GHN news agency reported that Russia had begun another invasion in its breaking news [...]

Opposition politicians and public figures rushed to the Imedi office to protest against the video too as it not only attacked Russia but also discredited the opposition. In the video the opposition loses the [May 30 Tbilisi mayoral] elections, riots in protest and then helps Russia invade.

Protesters also accused the president of orchestrating the fake report.

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