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Shake-up in Georgian Party Leadership After Fatal Melee

April 14, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ Soviet Georgia’s Communist Party chief and premier were removed Friday, five days after they ordered troops to disperse a crowd of protesters in a bloody melee that killed 19 people. The KGB chief was named party leader.

″Nobody and nothing can justify the deaths of absolutely innocent people,″ Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, himself an ethnic Georgian, said in a speech to the local party plenum that made the leadership changes.

He said in remarks later broadcast on Soviet television that it was impossible to tolerate blunders by officials that led to ″death and loss.″

Shevardnadze, party chief in the southern republic from 1972 to 1985 and a member of the ruling Politburo in Moscow, was dispatched to his homeland after Sunday’s bloodshed.

The resignation of Communist Party First Secretary Dzhumber I. Patiashvili, who had accepted responsibility for the tragedy, was unanimously accepted by the party’s Central Committee after ″heated discussion,″ Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov told a news briefing in Moscow.

Givi G. Gumbaridze, who has been Georgia’s KGB chief for two months, was elected to replace Patiashvili. Gumbaridze, 45, previously served as party leader in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city of 1.2 million people.

Premier Zurab Chkheidze also was removed at a separate meeting of Georgia’s Presidium, or top government body, the official Tass news agency reported. Nodari Chitanava, a Central Committee secretary, was named the new head of the republic’s government, Tass said.

Georgia’s president, Otari Cherkeziya, also offered to resign, and the matter will be considered at the next session of Georgia’s Supreme Soviet parliament, which is empowered to remove him, Tass said.

Tass quoted Shevardnadze as telling the meeting that lessons from the incident were ″difficult and bitter,″ adding that the events were ″detrimental″ to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reform policies.

Gerasimov gave no reason for the Georgia shake-up but said earlier that leaders in Georgia accepted responsibility for directing troops to clear a square of pro-independence demonstrators in Tbilisi on Sunday. At least 19 people were killed by official count.

The republic’s Communist Party newspaper Zarya Vostoka said local party leaders couldn’t escape responsibility ″when a political decision taken by the leadership was carried out, unfortunately, in such a way that it led to heavy moral, ethical and human losses.″

Signs posted at Tbilisi State University after the clash outside local government headquarters called Patiashvili a ″killer.″ The 49-year-old Georgian was elected first secretary in July 1985, succeeding Shevardnadze.

In shaking up their leadership, Georgian party officials were following a pattern set last year in the neighboring republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. After four months of nationalist protests there, the Armenian and Azerbaijani party chiefs were fired, apparently for their inability to halt unrest.

Tass described the situation in Georgia as stable Friday, with all enterprises in the capital working ″at full blast.″

However, the deputy director of Georgia’s official Gruzinform news agency, Zhorab Lomidze, said some businesses were not operating at normal levels because of a strike that began a week ago in Tbilisi, 900 miles south of Moscow. And the Georgian party’s Politburo described the situation as ″strained,″ with universities and schools still closed by boycotts.

Leda Archvadze, sister-in-law of arrested Georgian human rights activist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, said that outside Government House, the site of the confrontation, a memorial has appeared spontaneously.

″There are mountains of flowers. Every day people place fresh flowers,″ she said by telephone.

An estimated 2,000 people marched through the streets Thursday for the first funeral for one of the victims, psychiatrist Zia Djinjaradze, according to a Tbilisi human rights activist. More funerals were planned for Saturday and Sunday, said Lomidze and Ms. Archvadze.

A commission is investigating whether soldiers who broke up the protest had short metal shovels customarily used for digging trenches, Gerasimov said Thursday. He said the troops were not supposed to be carrying the shovels, and that they could be punished if the commission finds they used them to beat protesters.

Patiashvili has said he did not expect fatalities when troops were ordered out because they were equipped only with nightsticks and shields. But several Georgians who spoke in telephone interviews said the soldiers also had shovels.

In his televised remarks, Shevardnadze said it was Georgians’ ″supreme duty to establish the truth″ about how their countrymen died.

In broadcast remarks blaming local officials as well as protest organizers for the weekend fracas, he said:

″One should not remain indifferent to any threats from irresponsible people, who too freely interpret the notions of democratization and openness, or people who occupy important posts, but are not capable of giving up false principles of the past, to any miscalculations and mistakes in implementing this policy - especially when it is connected to death and loss.″

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