Mikhail Saakashvili institutes economic blockade of Adjaria

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says he intends to use all measures at his disposal to resolve the conflict with Adjaria peacefully. Speaking at a briefing in the state office building Monday evening, he said that while he was prepared to enter into a dialogue with Aslan Abashidze, the Adjarian leader has so far refused to cooperate. In addition, Saakashvili said that he had no intention of accommodating himself to the Abashidze regime. 'Georgia has sufficient military force to settle the problem with the autonomous region, but we have not given in to the provocations of our enemies,' he said.

Saakashvili also said that the deadline he gave Abashidze to meet his ultimatum expired Monday night, and that the central authorities have now assumed control of the port of Batumi, as well as the airport and customs in Sarpi, on the border with Turkey. Work at those sites has now been curtailed, and cargo has been redirected to the port of Poti. In addition, railway traffic in the autonomous republic has been halted, a situation described by the Georgian prime minister, Zurab Zhvania, as alarming given the fact the railroad transports more than 12 million tons of oil each year, mostly from Azerbaidjan and Khazakstan. 'We have closed all Adjari accounts in Georgian banks, and that will continue until such time as Abashidze reconsiders,' Saakashvili said. He did not elaborate on what measures might be taken should Abashidze not 'reconsider.'

Saakashvili added that the curtailment of the operation of communications exchanges was a temporary measure. 'All of Adjaria's resources will have been exhausted within two weeks, 'he said. The Georgian president said that the restrictions on the operation of the port and customs would not impact the interests of ordinary people. Only the large-scale transport of goods would be restricted. 'This is being done in order to stabilize the situation in the country. An absolute majority of the population of Adjaria supports us in this matter,' he said.

Saakashvili also said that a criminal investigation for murder has been launched by the General Procurator's Office of Georgia against a vice-minister for internal affairs of Adjaria. He added that within the next few days, the procurator's office would launch investigations of an additional 10 highly placed Adjari officials, and that international warrants would be issued for their arrest.

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