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Saakashvili Gives Ultimatum To Renegade Leader

Poti, Georgia; 14 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gave an ultimatum to the leader of the autonomous Adjaria region today, ordering him to recognize Tbilisi's authority.

Saakashvili said in the coastal town of Poti that he is giving Aslan Abashidze until tomorrow night for reflection.

He said he demands freedom of movement for himself and any official on Adjaria's territory, allowing Adjaria residents to freely express their will, and to allow free election campaigning in Adjaria.

Earlier today, Saakashvili put Georgia's military on alert after he was barred by armed men from entering Adjaria.

But he said that his goal was to take back control of the region peacefully: "There are armed people on the other side [Adjaria] with grenade-launchers and there is a military boat off the shore with snipers and heavy machine-guns. Our task is to find a peaceful way out of this situation. On the other hand, every citizen of Georgia should know that we will never allow for Adjaria to separate from Georgia and I will do everything I can to preserve Georgia's unity."

He also warned Russia not to interfere in the standoff between Adjaria and Tbilisi, saying "any mistake could lead to catastrophe."

But Russia's Foreign Ministry today warned Tbilisi against any military intervention in Adjaria, where Russia maintains a military base.