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Since 1st March, 1999
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Georgia faces collapse, says rebel leader

Moscow, Dec. 3 (Reuters): The leader of one of Georgia’s restive regions said today the former Soviet republic faced collapse if its new leaders failed to give up some of their “stolen” power to the provinces.

Aslan Abashidze, the leader of Georgia’s Black Sea Adzhara region, said the planned new Georgian elections since mass protests toppled President Eduard Shevardnadze last month were a farce.

During a visit to Moscow, the former Shevardnadze ally who runs his region as a personal fiefdom said he would not take part as he had no time to prepare.

“If we want peace we have to return to what went before. Georgia was created from separate, independent governments, from historical regions — Abkhazia, Adzhara, Ossetia,” Abashidze told a news conference.

“And we must return to that formula... if we do not change the policies all will end like it did before,” he said, referring to wars that shattered the country in the early 1990s.

Georgia is scheduled to hold presidential elections on January 4. A date for new parliamentary elections has not been set.

“No one is ready for these elections, the timing is too quick... If we want to create a new farce, then do it... They want (an election) as quickly as possible to legitimise their power,” Abashidze said. “What took place was a coup under the threat of force. It was not a revolution, neither velvet nor rose.”

Abashidze’s prolonged visit to Russia has raised eyebrows among Georgia’s new leaders, who have accused Moscow of encouraging the three regions to grab full independence.

Yesterday, the US issued a thinly veiled warning to Russia not to back the breakaway regions and to support Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The west hopes for stability to ensure construction of a $2.5 billion oil pipeline to take Caspian oil to the Mediterranean, while Russia hopes to reassert its dominance in the strategic region.

Georgia said yesterday it did not expect to join Nato before the end of the decade because it would take at least that long to repair the country’s crippled economy and carry out military reforms.

Defence minister David Tevzadze said Tbilisi would nevertheless pursue its partnership with the alliance and maintain its contribution of troops to Nato’s peacekeeping operations.

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