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Georgia cancels opposition tycoon’s citizenship

Georgia has cancelled the citizenship of a billionaire tycoon, officials said Tuesday, undermining his bid to mount a political challenge to pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, one of Georgia’s richest men with a fortune estimated at $5.5 billion (four billion euros) by Forbes magazine, said last week he intended to form a political party and contest parliamentary polls in 2012.

But the Public Registry Agency said that his Georgian citizenship had become invalid because he had also taken French citizenship — effectively scuppering his plans as only Georgian citizens can set up a political party.

“In conformity with the requirements of the constitution and the law … Bidzina Ivanishvilis Georgian citizenship has been terminated,” the agency said in a statement without specifying when the decision was taken.

The reclusive businessman and philanthropist sparked huge public interest in the former Soviet republic when he said he would challenge Saakashvili, who he accused of monopolising power, curbing media freedom, cracking down on opponents and pressuring business.

But Saakashvili’s governing party slammed the tycoon for allegedly serving the interests of the country’s arch foe Moscow, which fought a war with Tbilisi in 2008, because Ivanishvili made his fortune in Russia and holds Russian citizenship as well as French nationality.

“We must protect Georgian politics from Russian money, from (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putins money,” senior governing party lawmaker Pavle Kublashvili told local media on Tuesday, accusing Ivanishvili of being part of an attempt to “buy Georgian politics”.

When another Georgian tycoon, Badri Patarkatsishvili, tried to challenge the authorities in 2007, he was accused of plotting a coup, his television station was shut down by security forces and his presidential bid the following year only attracted 7.1 percent of the vote.