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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK

World: Europe

Politics of oil fuels Georgia revolt

Rebels are thought to support former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia

By regional analyst, Malcolm Haslett:

A unit of mutinous soldiers in the republic of Georgia has used tanks to blockade vital routes between the capital, Tbilisi, and the Black Sea port of Poti.

Poti is near the terminal of a new oil pipeline which President Eduard Shevardnadze's government hopes will become the main route for Caspian oil exports, and a decision on where that route will run is due in a few days' time.

It is reported that the revolt is led by Akaki Eliava, a supporter of President Shevardnadze's old enemy and predecessor as president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia whose power base was in precisely this part of the country.

He was ousted in 1992 by a coalition of his enemies, who then invited back the country's former Communist leader, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Diehard supporters

Mr Gamsakhurdia died in 1993 during an abortive revolt to retake power, but there is still enormous resentment amongst his diehard supporters against Mr Shevardnadze.

But the question remains: why should Gamsakhurdia's men, the so-called 'Zviadists' stage a revolt at this particular moment?

One theory is that it is a purely internal attempt by Zviadists to disrupt impending local elections.

The Zviadists periodically do stage protest actions to show that their movement is still alive. In February, for example, they held several UN observers hostage for a brief period.

But a more popular theory links the latest revolt to oil politics.

Pipeline route

The oil consortium controlling much of the oil flowing out of the Caspian region is due to announce its choice of a major new pipeline route on October 29.

A smaller pipeline is already being built through Georgia, from the Azerbaijani Capital, Baku, to Georgia's Black Sea coast at Supsa, near Poti.

But one of the competing routes for a second, much bigger pipeline is also through Georgia.

It would not, however, end at Supsa, but go on across eastern Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

There is strong competition between this route and an upgraded version of the so-called 'northern route', through Russia.

So inevitably many Georgians will see the Senaki revolt as timed specially to make their country look unsuitable for a major pipeline route, and so tip the balance in favour of the Russian route.

There have been reports of sightings in western Georgia of a certain Igor Giorgadze, the man accused by Georgia of being behind two attempts to assassinate President Shevardnadze.

Giorgadze is seen by most Georgians as 'Russia's man', and the Russian authorities have been unable, or unwilling, to arrest and extradite him back to Georgia.

Even if these 'sightings' are not confirmed, however, many Georgians will see an 'external' hand in latest developments, with elements in the Russian security forces top suspect.

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