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Georgian President Offers Safe Passage To Adjar Leader

5 May 2004 -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has offered safe passage to the leader of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, Aslan Abashidze, if the latter will step down and end a standoff with Georgia's central government that threatens to turn bloody.

Igor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Security Council, has meanwhile arrived in Adjaria in an apparent effort to help resolve the crisis. Ivanov was met at the airport by Abashidze, and is expected to mediate talks between Abashidze and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania.

Speaking on state television this afternoon, President Saakashvili said he has discussed offers of asylum for Abashidze with authorities in the United States and Russia.

Later, Saakashvili spelled out the details of the offer and his plans to resolve the crisis in an interview with RFE/RL's Georgian Service. "In order to avoid shedding Georgian blood, I am prepared to guarantee full immunity and safety for Aslan Abashidze and his family members. I am prepared to ensure their security inside Georgia or abroad, should they decide to leave Georgia and go to any other country of the world," Saakashvili told RFE/RL. "I spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin twice today. I also spoke to the White House in Washington. I asked the Russian president -- and this request is still being considered, there is no final answer yet -- to give political asylum to Abashidze, and I assured him that we would not seek his extradition."

"We are not going to take away Adjaria's autonomy. But in the transitional period, I am going to impose direct presidential rule in Adjaria," Saakashvili said. "There will be an interim council appointed to govern the Adjar Autonomous Republic until local elections are held, as soon as possible, and new authorities, which Adjaria's people want, are elected."

Earlier, Georgia Security Council head Vano Merabishvili gave an ultimatum to Abashidze, saying he must "obey" Saakashvili and "avoid possible bloodshed."

"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. 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 said.

Police officers and elected officials began deserting Abashidze's ranks as thousands of protesters in Adjaria's main city of Batumi called for Abashidze's resignation.

Igor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Security Council, was scheduled to travel to Tbilisi today.


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