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Georgia Delivers Ultimatum To Adjar Leader

Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze 5 May 2004 -- Georgia has given the leader of the Autonomous Republic of Adjaria, Aslan Abashidze, and his allies an ultimatum to end their rebellion against the central authorities immediately -- or face possible attack.

Speaking in Tbilisi, Georgian Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili delivered the ultimatum on state television this afternoon. "I want to warn everyone -- all armed people and the authorities who are still on Aslan Abashidze's side -- that the hours of his regime are numbered," he said. "You have approximately two to three hours to come over to the side of the Georgian people and obey the Georgian president in order to avoid possible bloodshed."

Merabishvili's statement came amid reports of police officers and elected officials deserting Abashidze's ranks. Thousands of protesters in Adjaria's main city of Batumi also rallied to call for Abashidze to resign.

Abashidze's spokeswoman, Tamara Gudava, said Abashidze will make a televised statement tonight, but will not resign.

Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's press secretary, Guga Sukhanishvili, announced that Saakashvili spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice by telephone today about the crisis. Putin said he would send Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov by plane to Batumi in the next few hours. The exact purpose of Ivanov's trip was not revealed.

In related news, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania is due to hold talks with Adjar Interior Minister Djemal Gogitidze at a checkpoint on the Choloki River, on the administrative border between Adjaria and the rest of Georgia.

Events in Batumi have taken a rapid turn, ever since Abashidze declared a curfew and state of emergency yesterday following demonstrations calling for his resignation. The demonstrations continued overnight, with protesters holding candles and Georgian flags streaming through the center of Batumi.

The Batumi demonstrators chanted their allegiance to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has vowed to face down Abashidze: "Misha [Saakashvili]! Misha! Misha!"

Saakashvili has demanded that Abashidze disarm paramilitaries and recognize the authority of the Georgian central government in Tbilisi. There have been no signs of compliance so far from Abashidze, who ordered bridges and rail lines to the rest of Georgia blown up on 2 May.

Despite reports of isolated gunfire, no major violence or injuries were registered in the overnight protests.

Russia, which maintains a garrison in Adjaria, appealed for calm on both sides today. The Russian ambassador to Tbilisi, Vladimir Chkhikvishvili, said bloodshed must be avoided at all costs. "The main thing for us is not to allow bloodshed. That's the main thing," he said. "The rest is, of course, purely a Georgian internal matter. It must decide the issue. But resorting to force by either side and bloodshed would be a tragedy, not only for Georgia but also for the region. And I think it would complicate Russian-Georgian relations."

Reports say Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili will travel to Moscow tomorrow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

For RFE/RL's full coverage of the events in Georgia, please see the Georgian country page here.

(David Kakabadze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report.)

(compiled from wire reports)

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