Georgia warns of bread riots

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(First Edition)

TBILISI (Reuter) - Bread riots could break out in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, unless the West urgently helped the city and its refugees, the Economy Minister warned yesterday. 'I am appealing to Western nations for urgent help. We have an emergency bread problem in Tbilisi,' Michael Djibuti said. 'We tell our people to keep calm but . . . we are down to less than two weeks of flour.'

Mr Djibuti added: 'There is already a bread panic in the city because soon we will have more refugees coming. If the bread question is not solved immediately, then I'm afraid people will start fighting for bread. There will be riots.'

Georgia has seen an exodus of refugees from the Black Sea region of Abkhazia since seperatist rebels overran the area last week. The bread crisis is the result of another rebellion in Mingrelia, Georgia's breadbasket, where forces loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the former president, have taken up arms and blocked transport links to Tbilisi.

The 1.2 million people of Tbilisi, where long bread queues have become part of daily life, is likely to be swollen with more refugees. About 20,000 people have been stranded for days with no aid or transport in mountains near the Black Sea, officials said. Tens of thousands more have been trudging for days through blizzards and mountain ravines.

Gamsakhurdia rebels have captured the port of Poti, where ships carrying food supplies were said to be waiting to unload. Mr Djibuti said many others were turned away because of fighting. The port of Batumi was the only other outlet for food shipments. 'Our only alternative route to bring in food supplies is the road from our neighbour Azerbaijan, but they have their own war there.'