As Shervardnadze quits, Georgia begins crackdown he urged

September 15, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Bowing to a resignation threat by Georgian leader Eduard A. Shevardnadze, Georgia's Parliament imposed a two-month state of emergency on the war-ravaged country yesterday to combat a wave of criminal and paramilitary violence.

The vote came late in the evening, after Mr. Shevardnadze reacted to the Parliament's reluctance to impose the emergency by tendering his resignation during a televised legislative session and stalking out of the hall, saying, "I'm fed up with it all."

Later, the former Soviet foreign minister and KGB official appeared before a rally of 10,000 supporters to say he would retract his resignation only if Parliament approved the emergency and agreed to suspend its own actions for three months. After several hours, at a hastily called session, the Parliament agreed to the state of emergency request.

The state of emergency is to begin Sept. 20. For the following eight weeks, according to a program Mr. Shevardnadze had proposed Monday, all political activity will be sharply constrained, rallies and demonstrations forbidden, and the mass media subjected to censorship.

The rules are aimed, among other things, at combating an insurgency led by former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in a January 1992 military coup and subsequently replaced by Mr. Shevardnadze, who won a democratic vote last October.

Yesterday's developments brought to a critical point the steadily deteriorating political situation in the country of 5.3 million in the heart of the Caucasus region. For a year the Georgian army fought separatists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, once a favorite Soviet resort area, where the conflict took more than 2,000 lives. In August, Mr. Shevardnadze signed a peace agreement with the separatists calling for mutual withdrawal from the front lines.

That withdrawal has proceeded intermittently under the eyes of United Nations observers. But just as peace seemed to be near on the Black Sea coast, supporters of Mr. Gamsakhurdia began a military advance in the west of the country. Ethnic clashes have also broken out in the Ossetia region of northern Georgia.

Meanwhile Georgia's economy, once one of the strongest in the former Soviet Union, has collapsed.

Spokesmen for the Georgian leader said the measures were aimed at "armed bands terrorizing the civilian population," a clear reference to Gamsakhurdia supporters.

XTC "One clan controls wine, another controls gasoline, still another controls tea," said Vakhtang Abashidze, general director of Gruzinform, Georgia's state news agency, in a telephone interview. "These clans have quite a lot of hoodlums at their disposal who almost openly engage in racketeering, extortion, robberies, kidnappings and killings.

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