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Abkhazians Demonstrate Against Russian 'Blockade'

Moscow, March 25 (RFE/RL) - RFE/RL correspondents report that about 2,000 Abkhazians protested today in the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi against the blockade of Abkhazian ports by Russian border forces.

Our correspondent in Sukhumi says the demonstrators protested that Russia should not regulate Abkhazian commerce.

Boats from the Russian border forces Friday halted a Turkish vessel bound for Abkhazia. After the Turkish captain refused to submit to a customs search, two boats operated by Abkhazian separatists approached and exchanged gunfire with the Russian boats. No casualties were reported.

The Abkhaz parliament has appealed to the Russian State Duma to end the blockade that has been in force since October 1995.

Abkhazian separatists drove the Georgian army from their territory in 1993. About 3,000 Russian troops have been monitoring a ceasefire in the territory since. Their mandate expired in January, but they remain in place.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze Saturday defended the Russian border guards' action as complying with Russian-Georgian agreements on joint border protection.