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Georgian Leader Fires Cabinet as Crisis Grows

November 02, 2001|From Associated Press

TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia plunged deeper into political crisis Thursday as President Eduard A. Shevardnadze fired his government over a security scandal. The conflict threatened the fragile stability of the former Soviet republic on Russia's southern border.

Thousands of protesters massed in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, many demanding Shevardnadze's resignation over burgeoning corruption and poverty. The president, a former Soviet foreign minister, insisted that he would stay in office.

The scandal began with an attempted security raid on the country's leading independent television station Tuesday, on charges of tax evasion. It quickly took on larger proportions, bringing to the surface tensions boiling for months.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday that he is closely following developments in Georgia, which has had a fragile stability since Shevardnadze helped end devastating civil wars in the early 1990s.

Shevardnadze's government has been under pressure from political opponents at home, from the breakaway region of Abkhazia and from Russia, which accuses Georgia of providing refuge to rebels fighting Russian troops in breakaway Chechnya across the border.

Zurab Zhvania, the parliamentary speaker whom Shevardnadze has been battling politically, cheered the Cabinet's firing. Then he resigned, in what he called an effort to prevent the crisis from turning catastrophic.

"Our task now is to ease tension in the city and prompt the demonstrators to disperse," he said.

Shevardnadze also urged the demonstrators to go home, but the crowd remained past midnight.

The president said in a televised statement that he should continue to stay in office to lead the country through these "radical changes."

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