Shevardnadze blames attack on oil politics

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The Independent Online
THE RUTHLESS and hugely lucrative politics of Caspian oil may lie beneath the latest attempt on his life, the shaken but unharmed Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, claimed yesterday.

Speaking a day after gunmen blasted his armoured limousine with machine- guns and grenades, he indicated that he suspects "international terrorists" backed by reactionary former Soviet elements who resent his 5 million- strong republic's independence. "They cannot forgive Afghanistan, the Berlin Wall, European liberation, oil pipelines and the Eurasian transport corridor."

Georgia is almost certain to be chosen as the route for a pipeline to pump Caspian oil from neighbouring Azerbaijan to Turkey, and to its own port of Poti on the Black Sea. Jostling for the route - which promises hefty returns from tarriffs - has been under way for months, particularly from the Russians who want it to run over their territory. "Very powerful forces are interested in a different solution of the question linked to the transportation of oil through Georgia," said the 70-year-old president.

The attack, which left three people dead, served as a reminder of the volatility of the country, which erupted into civil war during the break- up of the Soviet Union but has been relatively peaceful since the last attempt on Mr Shevardnadze's life in August 1995.

Despite cries of indignation from Boris Yeltsin and his foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, Monday's attack will sour relations with Moscow. These are already strained by ill feeling over Russia's role in the breakaway region of Abkhazia and the presence of Russian military bases on Georgian soil.

Tbilisi also blames elements in Moscow for sheltering Igor Giorgadze, Mr Shevardnadze's former security chief, whom Georgia accuses of masterminding the previous attempt on the president's life. Georgia's parliament has demanded investigation into the attack be held within Russia's bases.