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20 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A group of ethnic Azeri villagers from southern Georgia picketed the State Chancellery in Tbilisi today to demand that an official investigation be launched into the disappearance of their religious leader, local media reported.

One of the demonstrators, identified as Israpil Akhnazarov, warned that residents of the village of Sadakhlo in Georgia's Marneuli district would stage larger protests in case their demands would remain unheeded.

"If we don't obtain satisfaction here, we the people of Sadakhlo -- that is 12,000 individuals -- will block the railway link, the highway, and stop all cars," the protester vowed. "We will close off everything and do whatever we [deem necessary]."

Mullah Haji Sedreddin Palangov of Sadakhlo has been missing since 28 June.

Friends and relatives suspect a former regional police chief whom Palangov had challenged over bribery and illegal arrests might be responsible for his disappearance.

(from Imedi television and Novosti Gruziya reports)
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