Georgia seizes Sukhumi

Tuesday 18 August 1992 23:02 BST

SUKHUMI (AP) - Georgian troops backed by tanks seized control of the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi yesterday and a military council was appointed to rule the rebellious region.

The Georgian Defence Minister, Tengiz Kitovani, arriving hours later at the Abkhazian parliament building where the Abkhazian flag had been pulled down and replaced by a Georgian one, said the action was taken because Abkhazia had declared its independence from Georgia last month.

'Every Georgian who loves his nation will support this step,' Mr Kitovani said.

Tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into the coastal city in western Georgia earlier yesterday. Georgian troops were reported to have fired upon the headquarters and set the parliament building on fire. A duty officer at the government building said the attack had left several buildings on fire.

Georgian military officials said its troops and Interior Ministry forces were in control of all major objectives in Sukhumi, including the airport. Georgian troops controlled the television tower, the seaport and other key sites.

The Georgian government sent 3,000 troops to the breakaway region of Abkhazia last week to pursue supporters of former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in a brief civil war in January. The leaders of Abkhazia denounced Georgia's move as an act of aggression.

At least 50 people were reported killed in four days of fighting between the Georgian troops and Abkhazian police in Sukhumi, a resort on the Black Sea.

Abkhazia's parliament voted in July to restore the 1925 constitution of independent Abkhazia. Ethnic Abkhazians total roughly 90,000 among the area's 500,000 people, but they enjoy the support of other ethnic groups in the Caucasus mountains.

'The restoration of by the Abkhazian parliament on July 27, 1992, of its 1925 constitution is tantamount to a self-annulment of its autonomy,' the State Council said in a memorandum released yesterday.

Mr Kitovani issued an ultimatum on Sunday demanding the resignation of the Abkhazian parliamentary speaker, Vladislav Ardzinba.

The ultimatum said Georgian troops reserved the right to launch combat operations if Ardzinba refused to step down. A group of Georgian Supreme Soviet deputies were reported to have demanded Ardzinba's resignation.

'Whether or not Abkhazia's parliament resigns is the business of the deputies and the Supreme Soviet of the republic,' Georgia's Acting Prime Minister, Tengiz Sigua, said, adding that he had no comment about Mr Kitovani's ultimatum.

Most of the Abkhazian leadership had apparently been evacuated from the city, although the Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Bagapsh, remained in his office on the 12th floor.

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