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Shevardnadze supports Parliament ultimatum to Russians

Tbilisi, April 18 (RFE/RL) - Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze says he supports a Georgian parliamentary resolution demanding a Russian withdrawal from Abkhazia unless Russian forces accept a new mandate there.

Itar-Tass quotes presidential Spokesman Vakhtang Abashidze today as saying Shevardnadze characterized the measure as tough but fair.

Georgia wants the 1,500 Russian troops in Abkhazia to assume more police responsibilities. Lawmakers voted 187-0 yesterday to give the peacekeepers two months to agree to the new mandate or leave.

The press spokesman said Shevardnadze also expressed satisfaction with the parliament's decision to support a plan giving Abkhazia special autonomous status within a single Georgian state. Abkhaz separatists seek full independence from Tbilisi.

Georgia lost Abkhazia to secessionist forces in 1993, after 13 months of fighting. Russian peacekeepers have kept the two sides apart since June, 1994. They patrol a zone between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.

About a quarter of a million Georgians who fled the region during the fighting say it is not safe for them to return, and demand that the Russians provide security for their repatriation.