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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hunger Strike in Tbilisi

TBILISI, Georgia-The leader of Georgia's largest paramilitary group, Jaba Ioseliani, began a hunger strike Thursday, demanding ministerial status for his militia.

About 200 of Ioseliani's supporters are camped out with him outside Opera on the main street of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Many of them are armed.

Ioseliani is demanding that the bulk of his paramilitaries - the Mkhedrioni or Horsemen - be turned into an emergency rescue force to deal with natural disasters and be given the status of a government ministry.

The Georgian parliament had been discussing the question, but the lack of a decision prompted Ioseliani, who is a member of the assembly, to walk out.

Ioselani and former Defense Minister Tengis Kitovani were eased out of the Georgian government three weeks ago by the former Soviet republic's leader, Eduard Shevardnadze.

The two men led the coup which toppled the former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia last January and paved the way for Shevardnadze's accession to power.

Kitovani has joined Ioseliani outside the Opera.

Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, visited Ioseliani to ask him to end his hunger strike, but Ioseliani reportedly refused.