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Georgia: A Coup That Failed

Prague, 20 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- For the second time in less than nine months, supporters of the late Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia have attempted to oust -- or physically destroy -- the Georgian leadership.

Following a botched bid to assassinate President Eduard Shevardnadze in February, hundreds of army troops and Gamsakhurdia supporters yesterday seized tanks and weapons and moved from their west Georgian base on the country's second city, Kutaisi.

After an exchange of artillery fire with regular army forces, the rebels agreed to talks with the Georgian military command, and subsequently retreated to their base in Senaki. The leader of the revolt was 42-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Akaki Eliava, who in 1992-3 headed a detachment of forces loyal to Gamsakhurdia. But later, he ended his differences with the Shevardnadze leadership. He was appointed commander of the Senaki military base several months ago by Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze.

Eliava told Caucasus Press yesterday that when he abandoned his opposition to the Shevardnadze leadership, he had "hoped to serve (his) country." But he said that a group of "corrupt people" are "ruining the state." Eliava added that as long as Shevardnadze remains president it will be impossible to restore Georgia's territorial integrity.

Speaking on Georgian state television, Shevardnadze said the insurrection was intended to thwart both the democratization process and plans for the transportation via Georgia of Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea oil. The Azerbaijan International Operating Company that is renovating the oil pipeline from Baku to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa suspended work on that project when news of the mutiny broke.

Mikhail Machavariani, secretary-general of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), claimed that "serious political forces both inside and outside Georgia" were supporting the rebels.

Other leading Georgian politicians identified a number of persons who, they claimed, were aligned with, or actively supporting, the insurgents.

Those accused included United Communist Party of Georgia chairman and retired general Panteleimon Giorgadze; Nemo Burchuladze, who served as deputy parliament speaker under Gamsakhurdia; and Boris Kakubava, one of the leaders of the Coordinating Council of Abkhaz Political Organizations that represents ethnic Georgian fugitives from Abkhazia.

Whether any or all of those accused actually did have any connection with the mutiny is unclear. Kakubava has denied any involvement, suggesting that the entire episode had been stage-managed by the Georgian leadership (with Moscow's assistance). He said it was staged to raise the popularity of the ruling-SMK on the eve of local elections scheduled for November 15.

Political commentator Davit Berdzenishvili has predicted that the SMK is unlikely to win more than 25 to 30 percent of the votes in most districts.