* Georgia says Russia does not like its democratic success
* Georgia accused Moscow of threatening military build-up
* Elections due to be held in Georgia on Monday
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 25 Georgian President
Mikheil Saakashvili lashed out at Russian criticism of a recent
prison abuse scandal in Georgia, saying on Tuesday that his
government's handling of the case showed it is more democratic
than Russia, where nobody "gives a damn" about such crimes.
In the scandal, which broke ahead of Georgia's parliamentary
elections next Monday, two television channels supportive of the
opposition broadcast video showing the torture and rape of
inmates in Tbilisi's main prison.
The head of the prison, his two deputies and several prison
guards were arrested, the prisons and interior ministers
resigned and Saakashvili asked police to take over prison guard
duties while radical reforms of the jail system were planned.
On Monday, Russia said the scandal raised questions about
the ability of Saakashvili's government to protect citizens'
rights. Russian and Georgian leaders have had a
tense relationship since a five-day war in 2008.
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, Saakashvili angrily
rejected the latest criticism, saying that Moscow did not like
his country's democratic success.
"That's why they want Georgia off the map, because if
Georgia survives ... then that's a bad example for all the
others (former Soviet states), including the Russian people,
from the point of view of the Russian government," Saakashvili
"Even the way, how we reacted, to the prison scandal we had
recently, in Russia these things happen almost every day ... and
nobody gives a damn there about it," he said.
Saakashvili's government has said the footage, which showed
guards beating, punching and humiliating prisoners, as well as
inmates being raped with objects, was recorded by guards who
were bribed by unspecified people with political motives.
"The facts were sickening and our responsibility was clear,"
Saakashvili said. "Our reaction was swift and we did what
Saakashvili also accused Russia of threatening his country
by building up its military in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia
region and planning large military exercises on its border on
the eve of the election.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway
region, Abkhazia, as independent nations after the brief war
with Georgia in 2008, thwarting Saakashvili's hopes of bringing
them into the fold.
"One cannot imagine a more provocative and irresponsible
approach than to mobilize military forces during this crucial
moment of any nation's democratic life," Saakashvili said.
The president's ruling party is trying to ward off an
election challenge from a coalition led by billionaire Bidzina
Ivanishvili, whom Saakashvili has labeled a Kremlin stooge.
Saakashvili became the West's political darling when he rose
to power after the bloodless "Rose Revolution" that toppled
Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, in 2003.
However, his opponents have accused him of curbing political
freedoms and criticized him for leading Georgia - a country of
4.7 million people on a transit route for oil and gas supplies
across the volatile Caucasus region - into the disastrous war