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Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK

World: Europe

'Russia behind Georgia plot'

President Shevardnadze says plot was directed against democracy

President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia says the latest plot to assassinate him was - unlike previous conspiracies - also intended to kill the country's entire leadership.

In his weekly radio address Mr Shevardnadze said the plotters were controlled from Moscow, and were aiming to hinder the country's integration with Europe.

BBC's Steven Mulvey: "The president hoped the new Russian Government would root out conspiracy"
Past plots, in 1995 and 1998 had been directed at him alone, the president said in his weekly radio address, while this one was aimed at overthrowing the whole government.

As on past occasions, he accused unspecified forces in Russia of being behind the plot, while refraining from blaming the government directly.

Mr Shevardnadze said enemies at home and abroad could well "step up their wicked activities" as elections were approaching.

Russian denial

Moscow has denied that Russian special forces were involved in the plot. Federal Sercurity Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich dismissed the accusations as remarks made "for domestic consumption".

[ image: Mr Shevardnadze had a lucky escape from a car bomb in 1995]
Mr Shevardnadze had a lucky escape from a car bomb in 1995
The Georgian Prime-News agency said seven people were arrested on Saturday on charges of attempting a terrorist attack against Mr Shevardnadze and they have already been charged.

The suspects include the former land forces commander, Gujar Qurashvili, a brother of the former head of special forces and an ex-bodyguard of Igor Giorgadze, the former Georgian security chief.

Posters bearing the portrait of Mr Giorgadze, whom Mr Shevardnadze blames for the earlier assassination attempts, were reportedly also found among the plotters' arsenal of weapons.

State television has been showing pictures of automatic rifles, grenade launchers, mines and explosives which it says were confiscated by security forces.

Georgia has repeatedly demanded Mr Giorgadze's extradition from Russia, but officials in Moscow have denied that he is on their territory. Some reports say he may now be in Syria.

Mr Shevardnadze has been one of the most vocal supporters of Nato's strategy towards Yugoslavia.

Correspondents say this is partly because he hopes to gain more help from the West in Georgia's own long-running ethnic and civil conflicts.

Mr Shevardnadze said the plot was planned by conservative forces inside the country and was "directed against the democratic development of Georgia, against its integration with Europe and the world".

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