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22 April 2004 -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (pictured) pledged today to end the rule of what he called the "criminal clan" that is currently running the province of Adjaria.

Addressing the first session of Georgia's newly elected parliament, Saakashvili said that bringing Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze under control of the central government is now the main challenge facing Georgia.

Saakashvili said people in Adjaria "need to be freed" from Abashidze's rule.

Saakashvili also said he will not allow Abashidze and "his Russian partners" to withhold proceeds from oil exports through the port in Batumi, Adjaria's provincial capital.

Saakashvili accuses Abashidze of withholding taxes from Georgia's state coffers, cracking down on dissenters and refusing to disarm his paramilitary forces in the region.

(AP)
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