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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shevardnadze Decrees Attacked

TBILISI, Georgia -- The Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, has been accused of trying to establish a "police state" after he moved to clamp down on the shadowy world of Georgia's private militias.


Tengiz Kitovani, a former defense minister and outspoken critic of Shevardnadze, described a weekend raid by security forces on "armed formations" training outside Tbilisi as an "old communist trick aimed at frightening people."


Kitovani angrily denied reports in the Georgian media that he had been preparing to launch a coup d'etat from a base at the Sea of Tbilisi, near the city. "It is a lie to say we planned a putsch," Kitovani told The Moscow Times.


But Kitovani warned that the Georgian public had "lost patience" with the government's attempts at resolving the refugee crisis in the breakaway western region of Abkhazia, and that a "military solution" could not be ignored. He insisted "all deported people have the right to return, with or without guns, to defend their land and their homes."


Abkhazia split from Georgia last September after a 13-month-long war between separatist forces and Georgian government troops. More than 250,000 ethnic Georgians fled the Black Sea region, and only a handful have so far been allowed to return by the Abkhazian authorities.


Shevardnadze has rejected attempts by Kitovani and his newly formed National Liberation Front to derail the UN-sponsored peace process. On Monday, he declared that "the time for populists and adventurers is over."


The weekend raid on the Sea of Tbilisi was carried out by Interior and Security Ministry troops, acting under two new decrees, signed by Shevardnadze last week. The decrees require all armed groups to submit themselves to the control of Georgia's Defense Ministry, and restrict the use of private security guards to a handful of senior officials.


A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said the operation had gone "smoothly" and that no one had been injured.


In a radio interview Monday, Shevardnadze said Georgia was now striving to become a "proper state" in which private militias were no longer needed. He warned the country's armed groups not "to play with fire," implying that they had been responsible for provoking the recent war against separatists in the western region of Abkhazia.


Only senior government and parliamentary officials, including the head of state, the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, security, and the interior will now be allowed to have armed bodyguards.


Although Shevardnadze's own position has clearly been strengthened by the security reshuffle, analysts pointing to the recent coup attempt in neighboring Azerbaijan say he would be unwise to drop his guard.


Several analysts pointed out that one man, the parliamentary deputy Jaba Ioseliani, had escaped the "bodyguard ban." Ioseliani, who is head of Georgia's Emergency Coordinating Council, and more importantly the leader of the shadowy "Mkhedrioni" organization, is widely considered to be the second most powerful man in the country.


The Mkhedrioni was recently embroiled in a scandal at the only Western hotel in Tbilisi, the Metechi Palace. The manager fled the country after he and two American employees were attacked in the building. He said Mkhedrioni members were responsible -- but the organization denies this.