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Georgia: New Parliament To Meet Amid Vote Controversy, New Rift With Adjara

Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze As the new Georgian parliament prepares to hold its inaugural session later this week, the controversy surrounding the autonomous republic of Adjaria has taken a new twist. Yesterday, the commanding officer of a Georgian Army unit garrisoned in the Adjar capital said he would remain loyal to the Adjar leadership.

Prague, 20 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia's new parliament will convene this week amid renewed tensions over the autonomous republic of Adjaria.

Speaking to journalists today, incumbent parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze said the legislature's inaugural session would focus on the situation in the restive autonomous republic. "With regard to the situation in Adjaria, the parliament will of course adopt a special resolution," she said. "For Georgia, [Adjaria] is such a painful issue that the new legislature cannot simply ignore [it]."

This week's parliamentary debate is expected to take place in the absence of nearly all Adjar lawmakers. Georgian media say all six Adjar parliamentarians elected from single-mandate constituencies last November have decided to boycott the new legislature to protest what they say is state-sponsored election fraud. Two of them, however, have reportedly expressed willingness to attend the inaugural session.

It looks as though, for the first time since 1995, Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze will have no representatives in Georgia's national parliament. Georgian authorities yesterday released the final results of the 28 March national parliamentary rerun,, and official returns show Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival garnered only 4 percent of the vote, well below the threshold required to win parliamentary seats.

By contrast, the ruling coalition led by President Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement party nabbed more than 66 percent of the vote and will control 135 of the 150 parliamentary seats attributed to parties under a proportional system. Of the remaining 15 contenders, only the opposition New Rightists-Industrialists coalition overcame the 7 percent threshold. It will have 15 seats in the new legislature.

Only proportional seats and 10 of the 85 parliamentary seats attributed to deputies elected from single-mandate constituencies were up for grabs in last month's election rerun. The vote was a rerun of last November's disputed polls that paved the way for then-President Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation and Saakashvili's rise to power.

Citing alleged fraud, representatives of Revival and the opposition left-wing Labor Party in Georgia's Central Election Commission (CEC) have refused to endorse the final, official returns of last month's election.

Former CEC Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili, in turn, blames the Adjar leadership for manipulating the vote and has nullified results from the autonomous province's Khulo and Kobuleti districts. A fresh vote in these two districts should have taken place on 28 April. But citing security concerns, Chiaberashvili scrapped the planned rerun at the last minute.

Tensions between Adjaria and the central government have been running high amid Saakashvili's pledge to bring the restive province back under Georgian control. Tbilisi accuses the Adjar leadership of crimes ranging from refusing to fulfill their commitments toward the central budget, plotting to assassinate Saakashvili, harassing political opponents, and cultivating ties with international drug traffickers.

Adjaria's leader, Aslan Abashidze, denies any wrongdoing and blames the Georgian government for ratcheting up the tension by seeking to forcefully reassert centralized control over the Black Sea republic.

In an interview today with Russia's "Vremya novostei" daily, Abashidze said that he will not comply with demands by Tbilisi that he dismantle his private militias and State Security Ministry until the central government shows it has no plans to reassert control over Adjaria by force.

Confrontation between Batumi and Tbilisi took a new twist yesterday when the commanding officer of the 25th Georgian Rifle Brigade garrisoned in the Adjar capital officially announced he had sworn allegiance to Abashidze.

Addressing reporters in Batumi, General Roman Dumbadze -- a native of Adjaria -- said that he is lawfully bound to serve the Adjar leadership. "In line with an order issued by former [Georgian] President [Shevardnadze], I recognize Aslan Abashidze as [my] commander-in-chief," he said. "This order, which has not been overturned, states that [Abashidze] is the commander-in-chief [of all armed forces located on Adjar territory]."

The Georgian Defense Ministry relieved Dumbadze of his duties on 1 April, accusing him of harboring too-close ties with Abashidze. But Dumbadze refused to step down, and has ignored a summons to appear at the Prosecutor-General's Office in Tbilisi for questioning. Georgian authorities today issued a warrant for his arrest on sedition charges.

Georgian authorities say 20 out of 50 officers in the 25th Brigade have left Adjaria and have demanded to be transferred to other army units. Meeting with some of these men in Tbilisi today, Saakashvili called Dumbadze a "traitor" and cautioned army officers garrisoned in Batumi against swearing allegiance to the Adjar leadership.

"I swear to everyone, including those [officers] who have remained faithful to their oath, that all traitors will be sentenced with the utmost severity. I will do everything so that other honest officers are taken away [from Adjaria] and that legality is restored. This we will do," he said.

While trying to downplay the possible impact of Dumbadze's insubordination, Georgian central authorities clearly remain concerned about developments in Adjaria. The Defense Ministry today issued a statement urging soldiers of the 25th Brigade not to obey their rebellious commander and to remain loyal to President Saakashvili.

Georgian media, however, note that a majority of the 350-strong unit are natives of Adjaria and wonder where their loyalty would lie in case of further confrontation between Batumi and Tbilisi.

In a bid to address these concerns, National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili said today the 25th Brigade soon would be temporarily garrisoned in the Georgian capital and its ranks completed with new, non-Adjar conscripts.