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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevardnadze Ousts Rivals in Georgia

TBILISI, Georgia -- At a tense parliamentary session, Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze has eased from office the two warlords who helped bring him to power.


Shevardnadze had for some time hold back from trying to remove Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani and militia leader Jaba Ioseliani from their posts, fearing that their supporters might begin fighting in the streets of Tbilisi as they did to remove Georgia's former president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in l991.


But the streets of the capital were calm yesterday after parliament replaced Kitovani late Thursday with General Georgi Karkarashzili, 26, who despite his age commands widespread respect among the Georgian military.


The legislators also suspended the Georgian Defense Council, which has been running the war effort against separatists in Abkhazia, pending the drawing up of a proper charter. That move deprived Ioseliani, the leader of the Mekhedrioni, or horseman paramilitary group, of his influential position as deputy chairman of the council.


Officially Kitovani was removed because he had too many jobs, including those of a parliamentary deputy, defense minister, and deputy prime minster responsible for the Defense, Interior and Intelligence Ministries.


But in fact Shevardnadze has for some time been looking for a way to move aside the two strongmen with whom he has ruled since they gained power at the head of armed militias.


Until now, the Georgian leader and former Soviet foreign minister has not wanted to risk provoking a possible military confrontation by allowing parliament to decide Kitovani's future.


Shevardnadze's aides said he resolved to act after meeting with the former U. S. Secretary of State James Baker at the funeral of the Turkish President Turgaz Orzal in Ankara last month. Baker apparently asked Shevardnadze if he was "still hanging out with those guys Kitovani and Iosiliani".


Ever mindful of Western opinion, Shevardnadze then allowed the Georgian parliament to challenge the defense minister's position.


Tbilisi coursed with rumors and counter-rumors Friday. Had Kitovani walked out of the morning meeting of the Defense Council? Would he now lead his men into armed opposition?


Shevardnadze later told the parliament that "Kitovani was offered the job of deputy prime minister but refused because he thought that the same person should be deputy prime minister and defense minster. He's decided to simply stay on as a deputy to the parliament", he said.


Iosiliani who has strongly backed Shevardnadze since the former Soviet foreign minster returned to his native Georgia a year ago, apparently sacrificed his position to help Shevardnadze ease Kitovani out of power.


It is not yet certain that Kitovani will just quietly disappear. In recent months he has given weapons and uniforms to pro-Gamsakhurdia rebels in western Georgia; is rumored to have conducted negotiations the Russian military about the possibility of him replacing Shevardnadze; and has on several occasions strongly criticized his colleagues in the Georgian government.