Panic Follows Fake Russian Invasion on Georgian TV

Russia slammed the Republic of Georgia's Imedi TV channel today, calling a fake weekend news segment showing a Russian invasion "irresponsible and immoral."

"The provocative TV broadcast caused quite concrete damage to the security and stability in the region and significantly increased the degree of tension in a situation that is complex even without it," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Television viewers in the Republic of Georgia were stunned Saturday night to see Russian tanks rolling into their capital of Tblisi, fighter jets streaking across the sky and the news that President Mikheil Saakashvili had been killed.

Cell phone networks crashed as family members tried to call each other, grocery store shelves were emptied and the emergency services dealt with a spate in heart attacks.

All over a spoof.

Imedi TV, one of Georgia's biggest stations, said they were attempting to show Georgians what "the worst day in Georgian history might look like."

At 8 p.m. Saturday, a time when the news is usually on, a 30-minute segment was introduced with the disclaimer that what was to follow was not real. But that was the last warning.

What followed was archived footage of the 2008 five-day war between Russia and Georgia, a conflict still fresh in the minds of citizens of both countries that have very strained relations.

Viewers who missed the disclaimer instead saw Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordering troops into battle and President Barack Obama condemning the attack.

"[Georgians] are really frustrated and really angry because they think they were cheated," Ketevan Khachidze, editor-in-chief of The Georgian Times, said in a telephone interview. "The reason why the channel broadcast the video was explained, but they don't think it was legitimate. They don't think it was worth doing such a thing."

Khachidze said that the broadcast was also aired on the radio, creating chaos on the roads. The only reason she knew that it wasn't true, she said, was thanks to her Internet connection at work.

Saakashvili's Administration Accused of being Behind the Program

The program, aired by the station run by a Saakashvili ally, said the Georgian opposition had invited Russian forces into the country and a leader, Nino Burjanadze, took over the government. Burjanadze recently met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

"Full responsibility for the preparation and the results of the report lie with the Georgian authorities, which have practically monopolized all television space in order to wage information terror on their own people," opposition group Alliance for Georgia said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

On Sunday, Saakashvili criticized the program for failing to properly warn viewers that what they were watching was all imagined, but said it was not far from what could happen.

"It was really an unpleasant film, but more unpleasant is that fact the report was maximally close to what could happen or what the enemy of Georgia has in mind," Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili added that his grandmother had been frightened. A spokeswoman did not comment on whether the president knew about the preparation of the program, but tried to make it clear they did not approve of the way it was presented.

Opposition leaders rallied outside Imedi's studios. Russia and its outspoken NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, have accused accused Saakashvili's administration of being behind the program.

"With lies and shocking provocations Saakashvili keeps playing off brotherly Georgian against Russian people," Rogozin wrote on his Twitter feed. "He's a very ill and dangerous man. His actions are criminal."

When the segment ended, the anchor apologized for the confusion, but a studio discussion with analysts followed as planned.

Imedi has issued an official apology but the Democratic Movement - United Georgia opposition party has said they plan to sue over the broadcast.