Georgia row over TV channel ruling

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Journalists do a live broadcast at a protest rally outside Georgia's Supreme Court in Tbilisi. Photo: 2 March 2017Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Protesters rallied outside the Supreme Court after its verdict

Georgia's Supreme Court has ordered to return the nation's biggest independent TV channel to its previous co-owner, a move denounced by government critics.

The court backed a claim by owner Kibar Khalvashi that the former government illegally forced him to surrender his shares in Rustavi 2.

Mr Khalvashi is close a supporter of the ruling Georgian Dream party.

Opponents have expressed fears that he will silence the only strong media voice critical of the government.

After Thursday's verdict, demonstrators held a protest rally outside the Supreme Court in the capital, Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, Rustavi 2's director general Nika Gvaramia said that "dictatorship has officially been established in Georgia".

He also invited Mr Khalvashi to sell Rustavi 2 to its current management, after the owner had suggested he would sell the channel in the future.

The US embassy in Tbilisi and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern over the court's ruling.