Georgian Leader Signs Resignation Papers
TBILISI, Georgia (AP) _ Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was signing his resignation papers, an opposition figure told Georgian television on Sunday.
Georgi Baramadize, an opposition leader, cited protest leader Mikhail Saakashvili as telling him by telephone from Shevardnadze’s residence that the Georgian leader was at that moment signing his resignation.
Shevardnadze’s control of this ex-Soviet republic had been slipping Sunday as leaders of protesters alrewady occupying parliament urged tens of thousands of supporters to seize more organs of state power and some military units defected to the jubilant protesters thronging the capital’s streets.
Saakashvili had arrived at Shevadnadze’s residence on the outskirts of Tbilisi, hours after giving the 75-year-old Georgian leader an imminent deadline to resign. Saakashvili had threatened to take his supporters to storm Shevardnadze’s home if the Georgian leader failed to go.
``We will go and take the last presidential residence,″ Saakashvili told protesters, claiming ``almost the entire army had taken the opposition side.″
Saakashvili has promised to guarantee the safety of the Georgian leader and his family if Shevardnadze resigns in the wake of the allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections that sparked the political crisis. Shortly after Saakashvili arrived, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was also shown on Georgian television driving up to the residence. Later, Ivanov who had been shuttling between the opposing sides throughout the day, departed without speaking to reporters.
An armored personnel carrier was parked outside the residence and two ambulances had arrived earlier.
Groups of soldiers swore allegiance to the opposition throughout the day, but there was no way of knowing how widespread the defections were.
A National Guard commander said that 120 of his soldiers had pledged allegiance to the opposition-appointed interim president. The independent Rustavi-2 television station broadcast footage of the troops, who are part of the Defense Ministry, joining the opposition rally in front of the parliament. It did not identify the commander.
Georgi Shengilia, the commander of an elite Defense Ministry special forces battalion stationed on the outskirts of Tbilisi, said that he would not fulfill Shevardnadze’s orders.
Shevardnadze went on state television to demand that the opposition leave the parliament and presidential headquarters and said once again that he was ready to meet with them for talks. But he said that if they did not abandon the parliament building, he would take steps to enact the state of emergency he announced Saturday.
Shevardnadze also sacked Tedo Dzhaparidze, his top security aide, who had publicly acknowledged fraud in the Nov. 2 parliamentary elections and called for a new vote, the president’s office said.
Saakashvili urged his supporters to seize the Interior Ministry headquarters if Shevardnadze tries to convene a new parliament there, and ordered them to take control of the state television, which he accused of airing ``pro-Shevardnadze propaganda.″
Saakashvili, speaking to more than 50,000 boisterous supporters outside parliament, also told them to begin ousting local administrators appointed by Shevardnadze.
The crowd swelled under bright, sunny skies as the day went on _ to such an extent that the opposition leaders encouraged them to spread out to other areas of the city to avoid a stampede. Its members sang folk songs, danced and shouted their approval as their leaders announced each new advance.
When another, 50-strong unit of Defense Ministry troops arrived at the square to declare their loyalty, demonstrators embraced them and heaved some of the soldiers into the air in jubilation.
The Georgian political crisis reached a new peak Saturday when the opposition chased out the newly elected parliament. Nino Burdzhanadze, the speaker of the outgoing parliament and one of the three main opposition leaders, proclaimed herself acting president until early elections in 45 days.
In the latest signal of faltering loyalties in Shevardnadze’s inner circle, his international legal affairs adviser Levan Alexadze told Rustavi-2 that he was going over to the opposition. ``Maybe Georgia has a legitimate president, but Nino Burdzhanadze is a real president,″ he said.
Burdzhanadze said that the opposition was negotiating with some of Shevardnadze’s ministers, but refused to name them.
Defense Minister David Tevzadze said that political consultations must solve what he described as a ``legal absurdity,″ and that the military won’t resort to force as part of the state of emergency called by Shevardnadze.
Tevzadze confirmed his loyalty to the president. He said that Shevardnadze hadn’t given him orders to seize parliament or use force against the opposition in any other way. ``On the contrary, I have received warnings that there should be no action that could lead to bloodshed,″ he said.
However, he said that ``if the situation spins out of control (the military) will fulfill its constitutional duty.″
Russia and the United States _ both of which fear instability in the Caucasus region _ called on Georgians not to allow violence.
``It’s necessary to bring the developments into the constitutional framework and avoid provocations,″ Ivanov told the opposition crowd .
Saakashvili said the opposition had given Ivanov its demands and the foreign minister had promised to convey them to Shevardnadze. He said Ivanov had pledged that Russian military units stationed in Georgia wouldn’t intervene.
The opposition has pressed Shevardnadze to step down immediately instead of waiting until 2005, when his term ends. The fraudulent elections, which Shevardnadze had declared democratic and fair, became a tipping point for a population fed up with the poverty, corruption and crime that have dogged Georgia for more than a decade.
Shevardnadze has resolutely refused to step down. Even as bodyguards hustled him out of the parliament Saturday with protesters on his heels, he pledged, ``I will not resign.″
``I can step down only within the framework of the constitution,″ Shevardnadze said. ``It will depend on the parliament and the population, but everything has to happen within the constitutional framework.″
Shevardnadze signed a decree instituting a state of emergency in this ex-Soviet republic for 30 days. Shevardnadze gave the task of restoring order to the Interior and Defense Ministries, and said ``order will be restored and the criminals will be punished.″ At his side, Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili said he would obey all the president’s orders.
However, splits were visible among the security services. On Saturday night, Rustavi-2 television broadcast a statement from Col. Kote Danelia, the commander of a motorized brigade, who said he would not obey if ordered to move against protesters. Saakashvili claimed Sunday that special forces battalions stationed in the city of Zugdidi and the Svanetia region had taken the opposition side.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged Shevardnadze and his opponents to talk.
``We call on all sides to refrain from the use of force or violence, and to enter into a dialogue with a view to restoring calm and reaching a compromise solution acceptable to all and in the interest of Georgia,″ he said.