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Georgia Protesters Demand Adjara Leader's Resignation - 2004-05-05


New street protests have taken place in the Adjara region in the former Soviet Republic, Georgia, adding to the pressure on the region's renegade leader to resign.

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Adjaran capital city, Batumi, demanding Adjaran leader Aslan Abashidze step down peacefully, as Georgian authorities have long demanded.

Armed men fired on a convoy of vehicles bringing people into Batumi to join the rally, wounding two people.

But the nighttime rally took place peacefully, in contrast to a smaller demonstration earlier in the day that police forcibly broke up, injuring dozens of protesters.

Meanwhile Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called on the private militia in the restive region to disobey orders from Mr. Abashidze.

Mr. Saakashvili has steadily increased the pressure on the Black Sea region, in recent weeks, vowing to force Mr. Abashidze from power.

Tensions increased dramatically, Sunday, when forces loyal to Mr. Abashidze blew up three bridges linking Adjara to the rest of Georgia, halting the flow of oil and other products through the strategic Adjaran capital city.

Mr. Saaskashvili then delivered an ultimatum, calling on Mr. Abashidze to resign within ten days or face unspecified consequences.

The Adjaran leader has long ruled, but his grip on power began to weaken after longtime Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was ousted last November, in the so-called "Rose Revolution," led by President Saakashvili.

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