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Georgian Government Holds Emergency Meeting On Adjaria

Poti, Georgia; 15 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili held an emergency government meeting today to discuss a growing dispute with Georgia's separatist province of Adjaria.

Gunmen yesterday blocked Saakashvili's convoy from entering Adjaria. The president then gave Adjaria's leadership a deadline of today to accept central government control or face an air, land, and sea blockade and the freezing of foreign bank accounts linked to Adjar leaders.

Saakashvili also has put the Georgian military on alert, deployed troops at the administrative border with Adjaria, and warned Russia against interfering in the dispute. Russia, which keeps a military base at Batumi in Adjaria, has warned against any use of force.

Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze accuses Saakashvili of planning to use the military to overthrow him. But Abashidze today said he is ready to discuss Georgia's demands.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) appealed to all sides to use restraint in resolving the dispute. OSCE spokesman Richard Murphy told RFE/RL: "The OSCE is concerned about the apparent increase in tension, at least as far as language is concerned, and our chairman-in-office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who is in Georgia at the moment,... is appealing to all sides to exercise restraint and to use all means to resolve their differences peacefully."

The OSCE chairman-in-office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi is currently on a visit to Georgia.