Tanks and artillery from the Georgian army were preparing for confrontation outside Kutaisi, a city of 200,000, as the convoy of more than 200 men drew nearer, bringing with them the prospect of more bloodshed to the small, troubled nation. Reports in Moscow last night said artillery fire was heard as the column approached.
The revolt was being closely watched in Moscow and the West, where Georgia is regarded as strategically important, partly because it is being developed as a western route for Caspian oil, but also because it lies on the west- east transport axis linking Eastern Europe with Central Asia. The West has been keen to help Georgia to consolidate its independence while Russia is weak.
The uprising is another challenge to the authority of Mr Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, who has been the subject of two failed assassination attempts since 1995. The crisis was sufficiently serious for him to threaten last night to impose a state of emergency.