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Russia Warns Abkhaz Opposition Over Unrest

13 November 2004 -- Russia has cautioned against unrest in Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, saying it will take any steps it will deem necessary to defend its interests in the region.

Supporters of Abkhazia's opposition presidential contender, Sergei Bagapsh, took control of the main administrative buildings in the Abkhaz capital Sukhum yesterday. Reports say one woman died of wounds received during clashes with police.

Bagapsh later urged his supporters to vacate the buildings and pledged to open dialogue with hiding government officials to avoid further confrontation.

"Here are our next steps: let's calmly leave the area once our demonstration is over. Let's go back to our headquarters and assess the whole situation. Let us assume lawfully the power that you won," he said.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement, however, described today's events as an "attempted coup" that threatens to destabilize the situation in the region.

Moscow -- which helped Abkhazia secede from Georgia in the 1990s -- also said it would hold Bagapsh responsible for further developments in the Black Sea province.

Abkhazia's election officials last month declared Bagapsh the winner of the disputed 3 October presidential polls. But the outgoing administration has ignored the decision, claiming the vote was fraudulent.

For more on the crisis in Abkhazia, see: Abkhaz Standoff Turns Violent