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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 17:48 GMT
Georgia warns Ajaria over arrests
Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze
Ajarian leader Abashidze is at odds with the new leaders in Tblisi
Georgia has warned the separatist region of Ajaria that it will not tolerate what it calls "the persecution of political activists".

The warning follows the arrest of members of the National Movement and student group Kmara, linked to newly elected president Mikhail Saakashvili.

Ajarian officials reimposed a state of emergency, lifted only on Saturday.

Regional leader Aslan Abashidze said the arrests were not political, but a justified response to a crimewave.

Weapons charges

Kmara helped to organise the demonstrations in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in November which toppled President Eduard Shevardnadze and brought the opposition to power.

The days when human rights activists and people with merely different views could be arrested should be over
Zurab Zhvania,
Georgian State Minister
Mr Abashidze opposed the shift of power in Tbilisi and refused to recognise the interim government before the elections.

He imposed a state of emergency and threatened to boycott the elections - before changing his mind at the last minute.

Members of Kmara and their relatives have recently been charged in Ajaria with possession of illegal weapons, drugs and counterfeit US dollars.

Georgian State Minister Zurab Zhvania condemned the arrests, saying "the days when human rights activists and people with merely different views could be arrested should be over".

"I have said once and would like to repeat that we will not tolerate even one such case," he said.

BBC analyst Steven Eke said Mr Saakashvili has staked his reputation on re-establishing central control over the separatist regions.

But Ajaria's crackdown is a direct and early challenge to his authority, he said.

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Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
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23 Nov 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
06 Jan 04  |  Country profiles

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