Soviet Officials Move to Quell Georgian Trouble
THE situation in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi remained tense yesterday. Contacted briefly by telephone Wednesday a member of the secretariat of the writers' union said that writers planned to present Politburo member Eduard Shevardnadze with a petition calling for the lifting of the nighttime curfew in the city.
Mr. Shevardnadze, a former Georgia party chief and now Soviet foreign minister, has been in Tbilisi since Monday. The Soviet foreign minister is accompanied by another senior Soviet leader, Georgy Razumovsky. The curfew was imposed on Sunday after 18 people were killed when Soviet troops moved in to disperse a demonstration.
Requesting anonymity, the writers' union official repeated allegations that troops had attacked Sunday's crowd with shovels.
He admitted that he had not witnessed Sunday's demonstration, but he claimed to have seen a video of the events.
The deaths are now being investigated by an official commission headed by the republic's prime minister.
The writers' union official said, however, that his organization and other groups were calling for the commission's members to be replaced. Government officials included in the commission were directly or indirectly responsible for Sunday's bloodshed, he claimed.
Unrest started in Tbilisi several days before Sunday's demonstration. Like the year-old conflict between Georgia's neighbors, Azerbaijan and Armenia, over the province of Nagorno-Karabakh, the present unrest seems to have been sparked by demands for secession by a local minority.
In this case the group in question were Abkhazians, inhabitants of the Abkhazian autonomous republic in northwestern Georgia. Abkhazians are ethnically and linguistically distinct from Georgians, but are already only a small minority in the Abkhazian republic.
The Abkhaz-Georgian relationship has long been an emotional and explosive one for both ethnic groups. Abkhazians have been calling for their autonomous republic to be removed from Georgia and incorporated into the Russian republic. The establishment of Moscow's direct rule over Nagorno-Karabakh - effectively removing the disputed enclave from Azerbaijan's jurisdiction - may have encouraged the latest round of Abkhazian agitation.
If so, this is precisely the sort of spill-over effect that Soviet officials feared would come from the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and explains why Moscow was unwilling for so long to do anything to change the status quo in Karabakh.
Meetings calling for Abkhazia's secession have been held intermittently over the last few months. Abkhazians claim that they are faced with imminent extinction as an ethnic group. Georgians claim that their people are subjected to discrimination and persecution in Abkhazia.
Ardent Georgian nationalists like Merab Kostava who call openly for Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union speak with equal passion of the need to prevent Abkhazia's secession. (Mr. Kostava was one of five activists reported to have been arrested on Tuesday).
``The Abkhazians have been slandering us,'' said the writers' union official. ``They only make up 17 percent of the population there, and even that figure is exaggerated.''
THE latest round of Abkhazian demonstrations in early April sparked a protest hunger strike in Tbilisi.
Last Sunday the hunger strike turned into a demonstration which rapidly took on anti-Soviet overtones, the writers' union official said. The core of the demonstrations consisted of about 1,000-1,500 people. But the crowd attracted a large number of bystanders. Most of the victims came from among the bystanders, he claimed.
The Soviet news media Wednesday reported that colleges were closed and high schools were experiencing unexplained difficulties. Transport was still being disrupted by groups of youths who stopped vehicles and threatened drivers, the Communist Party daily Pravda claimed.
Soviet television news showed tanks and armored vehicles, soldiers from the interior ministry's armed forces, and troops of what appeared to be elite airborne units in the streets of the capital.