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Abkhaz Opposition Accuses President Of Flouting Constitution

Abkhazia's leader Sergei Bagapsh
Abkhazia's leader Sergei Bagapsh
Five Abkhaz opposition parties or public organizations have issued a second statement criticizing President Sergei Bagapsh, this time for comments he made during a July 15 interview with the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy. It was the third such public criticism of Bagapsh in just over two months.

The five organizations in question are the Forum of Public Unity; the Economic Development Party of Abkhazia; the People's Party; the war veterans' association Aruaa; and the public organization Akhyatsa.

Their leaders, together with the chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Abkhazia, signed an appeal in late May to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denouncing Bagapsh's approach to structuring relations with Moscow as likely to provoke an anti-Russian backlash.

In its statement, the opposition expressed outrage at Bagapsh's claim to Ekho Moskvy that "if we had wanted, I could have had between 10-15 countries" formally recognize Abkhazia by now as an independent state.

He added that he does not want Abkhazia to be recognized by "such exotic countries" as Zimbabwe and Papua-New Guinea.

Three months earlier, Bagapsh had said the Abkhaz leadership will not seek to force other countries to extend formal recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state. He said negotiations with unspecified countries are continuing to that end, and predicted that "they will recognize us sooner or later."

The opposition then took issue with Bagapsh's purely hypothetical statement that if at some future point discussion arose of Abkhazia becoming an associate member of the Russian Federation, the issue should be put to a referendum.

Bagapsh stressed at the same time that neither Russia nor Abkhazia has raised that possibility, but the opposition accused him not only of "adopting a superficial attitude to the issue of Abkhazia's independence, for which thousands of patriots have died," but also of ignoring the Law on Referendums. Article 4 of that law stipulates that Abkhazia's independence and proposed changes to its borders may not be put to a referendum.

In his interview, Bagapsh also said that the presidential election this fall (in which he intends to seek a second term) will be held on December 12. The opposition castigated him for that too, pointing out that setting the date of elections is the prerogative of the parliament, not of the president.

They further took issue with his statement that Georgians who have returned to Abkhazia but have not yet acquired Abkhaz passports will be entitled to vote in the election on production of a residence permit. The opposition parties objected that concession opens the door to multiple voting.

Bagapsh responded to some of those accusations in an interview with Abkhazia's official Apsny Press news agency on July 23.

He claimed his remark about Zimbabwe was deliberately quoted out of context, and he dismissed as "risible" the opposition argument that his comment on holding a referendum was a tacit expression of readiness to compromise on the issue of independent statehood.

Regarding the use of residence permits in the upcoming presidential ballot, Bagapsh said he understands the reluctance of some Georgians to acquire Abkhaz passports. He went on to point out that Georgian residents of Abkhazia's southernmost Gal(i) Raion were entitled to vote in previous elections using residence permits, and there is no reason to deprive them of that right.

In addition, Bagapsh responded indirectly to the opposition's earlier criticism of his imputed unwarranted concessions to Russia. He said that some 40 further inter-governmental or inter-agency agreements with the Russian Federation are currently being drafted, including a full-fledged treaty on military cooperation.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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