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Saakashvili Says Abashidze Considered Mercenaries

Tbilisi, 24 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili today accused the leader of Georgia's autonomous Adjaria republic of considering hiring mercenaries to defend his Black Sea region.

Saakashvili said that any attempt by Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze to use "Chechen or Ukrainian" gunmen against Georgia would lead to tragedy.

Abashidze told Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency that Saakashvili's comments about mercenaries were "fantastic."

Meanwhile, authorities in Adjaria denounced what they said was a provocation by Saakashvili's government in revoking the diplomatic passports and other travel documents for regional officials.

Gamlet Chipashvili, who represents the Adjar leadership in the Georgian capital, said the decision would only worsen relations between Tbilisi and Batumi.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry revoked diplomatic passports and other documents granted to Adjar residents traveling on behalf of the regional government.

Among those who had their passports revoked were Abashidze, his son Giorgi -- who is also the mayor of Batumi -- and Adjar Interior Minister Jemal Gogitidze.