Sunday 19th of January 2020, 17:21 CET|
|Fear in Batumi|
March 15, 2004
Civil Georgia News
Written by Giorgi Sepashvili, Tea Gularidze
Posted by HW on January 18, 2020
The mood in Batumi is solemn; people prefer to stay at homes, as armed men are patrolling Georgia's defiant region Adjara's capital.
Georgian authorities set up an anti-crisis center, chaired by Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, based in town of Poti to tackle Adjarian crisis, following after President Saakashvili was barred from entering the region on March 14.
Curfew and empty streets
Meanwhile, defiant Adjarian leadership declared a curfew in the region, deploying paramilitary forces and armored vehicles in the capital Batumi and at its administrative border.
"People are afraid and the situation is very strained. Streets of Batumi are unusually empty. Many armed men are seen, as well as armored vehicles," Aslan Tchanishvili, who works for Batumi branch of human rights advocacy NGO Georgia's Young Lawyers' Association, told Civil Georgia.
Witnesses say that many shops and trading centers in Batumi were closed on Monday.
"Prices went up. Owners of those shops, which still are open decided to increase prices, maybe because the borders with the rest of Georgia are closed," Aslan Tchanishvili added.
People afraid, schools closed
Mzia Amaghlobeli, who is an editor of the local newspaper Batumelebi, says people in Adjara are afraid.
"Several my neighbors have already left Batumi. Who has a chance they prefer to go to Tbilisi, however main part of those people which leave the town go to nearby villages," Mzia Amaghlobeli told Civil Georgia.
Schools in Batumi also have been closed down and the newspapers were not delivered in the town on Monday. "However, Tbilisi-based television, including Rustavi 2 and Imedi continue broadcasting the region," Mzia Amaghlobeli says.
Opposition movements in Adjara, which demand region's unilateral ruler Aslan Abashidze's resignation, claim that intimidation of their activists has been intensified in recent days.
"There were around 40 cases of intimidation of our activists in recent days. Local authorities want them to leave Adjara. Supporters of the local authorities are going door-by-door to our activists and warn them to go away from Adjara," Tamaz Diasamidze of Our Adjara movement, which is a major opposition union in Adjara, told Civil Georgia.
Difficult to leave
However, it becomes more and more difficult to leave the region, as railway and air connection with rest of the country is suspended.
Newly established anti-crisis center would be used, as President Saakashvili said to provide humanitarian aid to Adjara's population as well as to help those intimidated by the Adjarian leadership.
President Saakashvili also said on March 15, that the center would carry out measures in order to "prevent unsanctioned movements."
Borders closed, no oil shipment
"Vessels of the Georgian coast guard will close Batumi port to prevent import of illegal arms in the region," Saakashvili said.
Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania says that the closing borders with Adjara would be a blow for oil shipment via Batumi ; however he added that the central authorities will not let Georgia's disintegration.
There is an oil refinery in Batumi and port in the Adjarian capital is used for shipments of oil and refined products from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan that leaves via port of Batumi.
"10-11 million tone of oil is refined annually in Batumi," Zurab Zhvania added.
The recent crisis between Tbilisi and Batumi also threatens upcoming elections, scheduled for March 28, not only in Adjara, which is notorious for highly-suspicious elections, but in entire country.
Koba Davitashvili was President Saakashvili's closest ally, but decided to go into opposition after controversial constitutional changes.
"It is less possible that the elections will be held in Adjara. I do not expect that the crisis will be overcome very soon," Koba Davitashvili said on March 15.
Some political analysts in Georgia suggest that in case elections are not held in Adjara, the part of opposition parties would cast doubts over the legitimacy of election in entire Georgia.
Ghia Nodia of Tbilisi-based think-tank Caucasian Institute of Peace, Democracy and Development says that the recent crisis is caused by the upcoming elections.
"The central authorities do not want to hold elections in Adjara in the way they were held during previous years - with widespread ballot fraud. At the same time, the Adjarian leadership does not wish to hold elections in the way the central authorities demand. Finally, this has triggered confrontation between the sides," Ghia Nodia said.
Mood is not optimistic in Tbilisi as well. Political circles in the Georgian capital suggest that Aslan Abashidze, who has unilaterally ruled the region for past decade will not give up power easily.
"Aslan Abashidze's recent moves are clear indications that he is ready to fight to end," Koba Davitashvili says.