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Georgian Parliament to Vote on Disarming Adzharia - 2004-04-23

The Georgian parliament is due to vote on a plan to disarm the separatist province of Adzharia. At the same time, Adzharia is seeking outside help to protect it from the Georgian central authorities.

The Adzharian leader, Aslan Abashidze, has urged Russia and the United States to intervene and prevent a conflict between his region and the Georgian authorities.

In a broadcast on local television late Thursday, Mr. Abashidze said he has reason to believe that Georgian political and military officials are considering an military operation against Adzharia.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has criticized Mr. Abashidze's comments, describing them as "absurd."

In a broadcast on Russia's NTV news, the Georgian president said it was wrong to describe the situation between Adzharia and the Georgian authorities in Tblisi as a "conflict."

But there has been ongoing tension between the Georgian and Adzharian leaders since Mr. Saakashvili became president following last year's so-called "rose revolution."

As part of a nationwide crackdown on corruption, the Georgian president accuses Adzharian tax and customs authorities of withholding tax payments. He also wants to disarm paramilitary forces in Adzharia.

In March, Adzharian border guards prevented the Georgian leader from entering the region. In a bid to assert his authority the Georgian president imposed an economic blockade on the separatist province. It was lifted within days following what were called successful talks between Mr. Saakashvili and Mr. Abashidze.

But the problems between the two leaders are clearly far from being resolved. Mr. Saakashvili, addressing the first session of the newly elected Georgian parliament on Thursday, accused the Adzharian leadership of being involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activity.