Thousands in Georgia rally to support popular TV station

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TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Thousands of people have rallied in the Georgian capital to protest a court verdict handing a top opposition-minded television station to a government-friendly owner.

The Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that Rustavi-2 TV station should be given to its former owner, Kibar Khalvashi.

Rustavi 2, Georgia's most popular TV station, has been sharply critical of the government. The opposition sees the verdict as an attempt by the authorities to silence criticism.

The court backed Khalvashi's claim that he was forced to sell the station cheaply under former President Mikhail Saakashvili. Government critics see Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, as a driving force behind the court's ruling.

Thousands rallied Friday outside the station's headquarters to denounce the court's ruling and express support for its journalists.

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