Prague, 19 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Confronted with daily street protests and defections in the upper levels of the state apparatus, Abkhazia's outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba appears to be striving to maintain his authority over the Black Sea province.
A statement posted yesterday on Abkhazia's official website said Ardzinba has asked lawmakers to dismiss Prosecutor-General Rauf Korua.
In a letter sent to parliamentary speaker Nugzar Ashuba, Ardzinba blames Korua for failing to investigate cases of alleged election fraud and for refusing to open criminal proceedings against opposition activists accused of calling for the overthrow of the government.
Ardzinba also charges Korua with publicly siding with his opponents and of voicing his political views in what he calls "anti-constitutional statements." The Abkhaz leader is referring to a recent opposition rally that saw the prosecutor-general endorse a decision by the Central Election Commission that declared opposition candidate Sergei Bagapsh the winner of this month's presidential election.
Addressing demonstrators on 14 October in central Sukhum, Korua claimed the election was deliberately rigged in the southern Gali district -- a region where Bagapsh is said to enjoy relatively widespread support -- to discriminate against the main opposition candidate. "[Election] documents in Gali Raion were falsified and faked to slander [Bagapsh] and prevent the election from going smoothly and peacefully," korua said. "This is the conclusion we've come to. The Prosecutor-General's Office has made an investigation and opened criminal hearings into the case."
Parliament last night turned down Ardzinba's request and ruled that Korua should remain in office.
In another sign of the increasing political standoff, the chairwoman of Abkhazia's Supreme Court, Alla Avidzba, offered her resignation yesterday. Avidzba did not publicly elaborate on the reasons for her decision. But in private, Justice Ministry officials told Agence France-Presse that Avidzba stepped down to protest alleged government pressure to void the Central Election Commission's ruling.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly postponed a scheduled hearing on an appeal lodged by former Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, Bagapsh's main rival in the race. Khadjimba, who has the backing of the outgoing Abkhaz president, claims the vote was fraudulent and is demanding that a new election be held.
Hours after Avidzba announced her resignation, Abkhazia’s official Apsnypress news agency said the court would meet today to start hearing Khadjimba’s complaint. However, the session was delayed once again after Khadjimba’s lawyers accused the presiding judge of political bias.
Meanwhile, reports from Sukhum suggest authorities may be trying to assert control over the province's nongovernmental media.
Yesterday, officials from Abkhazia's state-run printing presses said technical mishaps would, for the time being, prevent them from publishing the province's independent newspapers.
"Yet, [the independent papers] will not come out this week because printing presses refused to publish them, citing technical problems. That's rather weird if you consider that technical problems appeared simultaneously in Abkhazia and in printing presses [in the Russian Black Sea resort of] Sochi that also print Abkhazia's independent newspapers. "
An Apsnypress report quoted Enver Khojava, the director of the Republic of Abkhazia printing press, as saying one of his offset printing machines was broken and that there was not a single specialist left in Abkhazia to fix it.
Inal Khashig is the editor in chief and owner of the "Chegemskaya pravda" weekly, one of Abkhazia's four main independent newspapers. In comments made to RFE/RL, he dismissed explanations given by state typographers to justify their refusal to print private media outlets.
"All four of Abkhazia's independent newspapers were due to reach newsstands [yesterday] morning. I'm talking here of those newspapers that are published on a regular basis, namely 'Nuzhnaya gazeta,' 'Chegemskaya pravda,' 'Delovaya Abkhaziya' and 'Ekho Abkhazii.' Yet, they will not come out this week because printing presses refused to publish them, citing technical problems. That's rather weird if you consider that technical problems appeared simultaneously in Abkhazia and in printing presses [in the Russian Black Sea resort of] Sochi that also print Abkhazia's independent newspapers. Most probably, the real reasons are political rather than technical," Khashig said.
The editors in chief of all four Abkhaz independent newspapers failed in their efforts yesterday to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Nodar Khashba.
Some lawmakers have pledged to intercede with the authorities on behalf of the newspapers. But Khashig believes such efforts may be fruitless. "The problem at the moment is that that all branches of power are so distant from each other that they can hardly influence each other," he said. "Every branch is kind of left on its own, and it is difficult to say how long this situation will last and how long it will take before our newspapers are printed again."
In Khashig's opinion, both the suspected ban on independent newspapers and Ardzinba's attempt to dismiss the prosecutor-general testify to his desire to retake the political initiative. But he said Ardzinba's latest moves may instead lead to further confrontation in the province.