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Ajar Opposition Rally Reportedly Broken Up

30 April 2004 -- 30 April 2004 -- Georgian media say law enforcement agencies in the autonomous republic of Ajara have broken up an opposition rally in the Black Sea port of Batumi.

Reports indicate a number of people received injuries as Interior Ministry special forces used rubber truncheons to disperse a 1,500-strong crowd in front of the Batumi Municipal Court.

The protesters were demanding early elections in the province and the release of opposition activists detained in the past few days. Tension is running high between Ajara and Georgia's central authorities.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to restore political and economic control over Ajara and threatened to take action against Adjara's leader Aslan Abashidze if he continues to defy the central government.

Yesterday, representatives of Georgia's ruling coalition demanded that Abashidze step down.

Abashidze, meanwhile, has accused Saakashvili of trying by force to reassert central government control of Ajara. Earlier today, Georgia launched large-scale military exercises on its border with Ajara.

Georgian Army Chief of Staff General Givi Iukuridze has said the military maneuvers "are not in any way intended as a provocation toward Ajara."

The land, sea, and air exercises are organized to mark the 13th anniversary of the armed forces. They involve about 2,000 servicemen and officers, several helicopters, 15 naval vessels, and 49 tanks.

The exercises are scheduled to end on 2 May.

(Novosti Gruziya/Prime News/Rustavi-2/AP/AFP)