Georgians Take Up Arms Over Republic's Future
Radical opposition steps up calls for president's ouster and digs in
AFTER a weekend of clashes, Georgians are gearing up for further confrontation over the leadership of their newly independent republic.While President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and opposition leaders talked about the need for dialogue to resolve political disputes, the positions of both sides seem to be hardening. At least 20 people were injured, and the Tass News Agency carried an unconfirmed report that three were killed over the weekend. But the only talks taking place yesterday were between Mr. Gamsakhurdia and members of the parliament's moderate opposition. The more radical opposition - the National Democratic Party and the Party for National Independence - was excluded. The president describes the opposition activity as an attempted coup and has called on people to protect the legally elected government. Insisting that Gamsakhurdia has become a dictator, the radical opposition not only demands the president's resignation, but also the lifting of controlled access to the mass media and the release of political prisoners, including National Democratic Party leader Georgi Chanturia. Former republican Foreign Minister Georgi Khoshtaria, who has emerged as a leading opposition figure, said chances for substantive talks would be slim until thousands of Georgians who flooded the capital from the countryside in answer to Gamsakhurdia's appeal, returned home. "All these people do is destabilize the situation," said Mr. Khoshtaria. "Gamsakhurdia is using them to provoke Georgians to attack Georgians." Both sides started an arms buildup Sunday, just hours after the most serious clash occurred outside the National Independence party's headquarters. In front of the parliament, the bastion of Gamsakhurdia's support, speakers delivered vitriolic attacks against the opposition. Members of the Georgian National Guard loyal to the president as well as some government bureaucrats, could be seen carrying rifles and automatic weapons. Some guardsmen had bazookas slung over their shoulders. Inside the TV center, the headquarters for the opposition, gas masks and first-aid kits were distributed throughout the night. On a bluff overlooking the front of the concrete and glass building, the opposition had set up sand-bag machine-gun nests. Two armored personnel carriers guarded the entrance. Opposition supporters carried a variety of weapons - shotguns, 22-caliber rifles, homemade machine guns and even M-16s. Some made Molotov cocktails. Others wore bandoliers of ammunition and had pistols stuc k in their belts. Still others gripped hand grenades or brandished swords. For those without firearms, a field hockey stick sufficed as a weapon. Despite the loose handling, only one weapon discharged accidentally by Tuesday morning and no one was injured. "I consider myself a peaceful man," said shotgun-toting David Tevzadze, a professor at the Tblisi Institute of Philosophy. m prepared to fight so my children can live in peace." Georgia may appear to be sliding into civil war, but nearly everyone said he would be reluctant to open fire on countrymen. "If the Soviet Army were opposing us, that would be one thing, but it would be difficult for Georgians to shoot other Georgians," said lawyer David Avitashvili, another defender at the TV center. Presidential spokesman Georgi Burjanadze said if the opposition refuses to obey the government's order to hand in all weapons, an effort may be made to disarm them. He said he believed such disarming could be achieved peacefully. But the opposition says if government forces move on them, they will have to defend themselves. Meanwhile, talks began yesterday to try to find a settlement to the long-standing conflict between the neighboring Caucasian republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan located to the south of here. After two days of visits to both republics and to the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbeyev won agreement for convening the first direct talks between all the participants in a conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives during the last two years.