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Abkhaz Prosecutor Warns Former Vice President

Raul Khajimba
Raul Khajimba
The Abkhaz prosecutor's office on September 15 accused former Vice President Raul Khajimba of seeking in recent statements to discredit the republic's law enforcement agencies in general and the prosecutor's office in particular.

Speaking at a conference of the war veterans' union Aruaa, Khajimba had openly challenged the official explanation for the arrest in late June of Aruaa member Colonel Valmer Butba.

A former career KGB officer who subsequently served as Abkhaz defense minister (2001-03) and then prime minister (2003-04), Khajimba ran against Sergei Bagapsh in the 2004 presidential election with the overt backing of Moscow. Bagapsh defeated Khajimba in the first round, triggering an armed standoff between supporters of the two rival candidates that was defused by senior Russian officials who succeeded in persuading the two men to run as a team in a repeat ballot in January 2005.

But as vice president, Khajimba became increasingly critical of, and distanced himself from, Bagapsh's policies. He finally resigned in late May and is expected to run against Bagapsh in the presidential election due in December -- assuming the statement by the prosecutor's office is not the first move towards barring him from the ballot.

Speaking at a press conference in early June, Khajimba explained the motives for his resignation. He accused Bagapsh of having done nothing over the previous four years to reform local government or increase the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies, and of blocking initiatives and proposals by his subordinates, and he argued the need for constitutional amendments that would redefine the powers of the parliament and prime minister.

At the same time, Khajimba denied any presidential ambitions. He said he planned to consult with all opposition forces on creating a team capable of extracting the republic from the current situation.

In late August, Khajimba told the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" that "from day one," the provisions of his power-sharing agreement with Bagapsh were not fulfilled. He further implied that Bagapsh repeatedly sought to belittle the opposition and rejected the very concept of dialogue with opposition parties.

And he criticized the recent agreements under which Abkhazia ceded to Russia for 10 years control of its railways, and granted Rosneft the right to prospect for oil and gas in its offshore waters. According to Khajimba, LUKoil earlier turned down an offer to exploit those reserves because the oil is of such poor quality that doing so would not be economically viable.

Khajimba played a prominent role in the opposition protests last month that culminated in the parliament appealing to Bagapsh not to sign the controversial amendments to the citizenship law that the parliament adopted on July 31. The opposition objections to those amendments centered on plans to grant Abkhaz citizenship to Georgians living in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, which the opposition construed as a ploy by Bagapsh to win Georgian votes. (Of Abkhazia's 129,000+ registered voters, some 14,000, most of them Georgians, live in Gali.)

Bagapsh responded to the parliamentary appeal not to sign the amendments into law by setting up an ad hoc commission that concluded that the amendments "contained imprecise formulations" and should therefore be reworked. That process is unlikely to be completed before the December ballot.

The fact that Khajimba was one of a group of Abkhaz oppositionists who met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when Putin visited Sukhumi in mid-August gave rise to speculation that Russia might again back Khajimba's candidacy in the December presidential ballot. But that election will not be a two-horse race. Businessman and media mogul Beslan Butba, who founded the Economic Development Party of Abkhazia two years ago, has indicated he will run.

In a recent interview, Butba claimed that opinion polls he has commissioned show a drastic drop in support for Bagapsh from the 85 percent approval rating he enjoyed one year ago in the wake of Russia's formal recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Butba claimed that he, Bagapsh, and Khajimba currently have very similar approval ratings, but did not cite figures.

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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