By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia's chief prosecutor announced his resignation on Thursday in a sign of divisions in the ruling coalition over reforms of the judiciary before a new prime minister and president take office.

Archil Kbilashvili's departure is sensitive because the Georgian Dream coalition faces criticism in the West over the arrest of political rivals since it won power last year, and is under pressure from Europe not to settle scores with outgoing President Mikheil Saakasvhili by prosecuting him.

The European Union warned Georgia last month not to pursue "politically motivated justice". It fears the arrest of Saakashvili might threaten stability in the South Caucasus country where pipelines carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

Kbilashvili, whose office has a role in such high-level prosecutions, told reporters he would leave after newly elected President Georgy Margvelashvili takes office on November 17.

He said he had no big dispute with Irakly Garibashvili, who will take over as prime minister this month, but there were differences over "priorities, challenges and reforms that have to be carried out in the law enforcement area".

Margvelashvili's victory in a presidential election last month gave Georgian Dream control of the government, parliament and presidency of the former Soviet republic of 4.5 million people for the first time.

But political uncertainty lingers because Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is quitting voluntarily to make way for Garibashvili - currently the interior minister, saying his job is done now that his rival Saakashvili is leaving office.

Kbilashvili initiated the arrest of dozens of former officials, including ex-prime minister Vano Merabishvili and former defense minister Bacho Akhalaia. But his office has been criticized over its handling of some of the cases.

"Kbilashvili was not a strong figure ... The government is now trying to shift the people's attention away from mistakes and problems," said Georgy Tevdoradze, an opposition parliamentarian from Saakashvili's United National Movement.

Ivanishvili made punishment of former officials involved in crime, corruption or human rights violations a priority, as well as seeking better ties with both Russia - with whom it fought a short war in 2008 - and the European Union.

Kbilashvili's departure will allow Garibashvili to start with a clean slate, political analyst Helen Khoshtaria said.

"Kbilashvili's resignation means that the government is trying to blame him for failures in the process of the so-called restoration of justice," she said.

She said it was too early to say how the resignation would affect reforms of the judiciary, which Saakashvili also failed to carry out during his decade-long rule. That would be more clear, she said, when Kbilashvili's replacement is named.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mark Heinrich)

 

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