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Gang-Torn Georgia Has Plenty of Usual Suspects

RUSSIA FINGERED

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THE multiple headlines in yesterday's edition of Free Georgia expressed a persistent feeling in this former Soviet republic: confusion.

''Who Wanted to Decapitate Georgia? Who Put Up the Money? Who Pressed the Button? Who is Unafraid of the People's Rage? Who Hopes There Will be No Answers to These Questions?,'' the government daily newspaper asked.

The slew of questions raised over the car bomb that injured Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze on Tuesday evening reflects the bewildered state of politics in this violence-torn country in the Caucasus mountains.

Shattered glass still carpeted the parliament courtyard in the capital of Tbilisi two days after the explosion, just as Georgia still has to emerge from an ugly period of civil war, economic collapse, and gang killings.

The list of possible culprits in the bomb attack, which wounded several people in Mr. Shevardnadze's motorcade but killed no one, is as long as the list of the Georgian leader's many enemies.

But the most popular theory among ordinary Georgians and political commentators pins the blame on Russia, Georgia's northern neighbor and historic foe.

''There has to have been somebody from outside behind this,'' says Gia Tarkhan-Mouravi, head of the Caucasian Institute for Development, Democracy, and Peace, an independent and influential think tank here.

A fierce tussle between Moscow and Tbilisi over a major oil pipeline deal heightens suspicion that someone in the Kremlin plotted to kill or frighten Shevardnadze. The deal is to be signed with a Western-led consortium in a month's time.

The consortium is involved in a $7.5 billion project to drill oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea field. It must decide whether to pump that oil through a new line to be built in Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean coast, or through an existing line that runs through Russia to the Black Sea.

A pipeline through Georgia would bring much-needed business to this poverty-stricken country, whose economic performance puts it at the bottom of the list of former Soviet republics.

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