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Demonstrators Vow to Continue Protests Until Gamsakhurdia Resigns

September 13, 1991

TBILISI, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ A broad range of Georgians stepped up their attacks on President Zviad Gamsakhurdia on Thursday, vowing not to let up until his government crumbles.

Gen. Tengiz Kitovani, commander of the maverick National Guard, said his troops would prevent bloodshed on either side. But he denounced what he called a dictatorial situation.

″The president will have to resign,″ he said in an interview. ″It won’t last long. We have information that the majority of the people support the opposition now because they do not trust Gamsakhurdia.″

The criticism reflected the instability in the emerging Soviet republics, which have few democratic traditions, and could foreshadow similar problems elsewhere in the fragmenting nation.

Kitovani worried aloud about Gamsakhurdia’s penchant for blaming criticism on external enemies.

″We are all agents of the Kremlin,″ he said sarcastically. Then he added, ″The Kremlin doesn’t even exist anymore.″

Georgian intellectuals joined political parties in demanding that the 53- year-old president at least ensure democracy, real independence and an open economy.

Many insisted on outright resignation.

″I think the president is 100 percent dictator, not a diplomat, not a politician,″ said poet Jansug Charkviani at a round-the-clock vigil on the steps of Tbilisi University. ″It is impossible to live like this.″

Filmmaker Keti Dolidze, a friend of Gamsakhurdia’s for 30 years, said she was saddened by what she called a sudden psychological change in a man who defended human rights.

″The main tragedy is that he doesn’t believe anyone. Leaders of the opposition would have died for him three years ago. If you lose so many smart loyal people so fast, you must know something is wrong inside.″

Late in the day, students and teachers gathered for a noisy demonstration at the university.

Opposition also mounted among members of Georgia’s Supreme Soviet, including Gamsakhurdia’s own Round Table movement. But few deputies wanted to comment before the parliament meets Monday.

Tengiz Segua, who resigned as prime minister last month to protest what he called a totalitarian threat, is to speak that same day at a rally aimed at crystallizing dissent against Gamsakhurdia.

The opposition plans to apply steadily increasing pressure on the president.

In the interim, Rustaveli Prospekt - the main street of Georgia’s capital - has the air of a surrealist street fair. Two opposition barricades, more symbolic than strategic, make it a pedestrian mall. Crowds in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, argue politics under banners for and against the president.

At nightfall, political leaders detail their complaints against Gamsakhurdia, accusing him of maintaining socialism and preventing other countries from recognizing an independent Georgia.

Now that television cameras have arrived, many slogans are in English.

One unlikely streamer says: ″First International Juggling Festival.″

Gamsakhurdia’s backers camp in tents on the steps of Government House, headquarters of the parliament and president. On the street, most people who oppose Gamsakhurdia agree Segua is a likely alternative.

″Only Segua opposes the idea that Segua should be the next leader,″ said Georgi Khosteria, who resigned as foreign minister last month.

Kikovani’s National Guard seems to dominate the uneasy situation from its position at Shavnabada, a former Communist youth summer camp at the edge of Tbilisi.

Troops appear disciplined, motivated and well-armed.

The government has moved against the troops, cutting electricity, water and phone lines to the base. A police checkpoint blocks deliveries. Official funds for salaries and supplies have been suspended.

Says Kikovani, a balding painter in a two-tone blue running suit: ″We are prepared to defend Georgians.″

Under his new Defense Ministry, Gamsakhurdia has amassed a contingent of paramilitary volunteers, a unit of Georgia Interior Ministry troops, and perhaps 800 National Guardsmen who did not follow Kikovani.

Although the numbers are in dispute, Kikovani’s men are believed to far outnumber the several thousand armed men under Gamsakhurdia’s command.

Like the political opposition and the intellectuals, Kikovani dated his turning point against Gamsakhurdia to Aug. 19, when hard-liners tried to overthrow Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Kikovani said the president ordered the National Guard to dissolve into the state police. He said he suspected Gamsakhurdia of sympathizing with the coup.

″I decided to save the guard, so I took it to the mountains, ″ Kikovani said. After Georgian Interior Ministry troops wounded five demonstrators on Sept. 2, he brought his men back to Tbilisi.

Akakii Asatiani, president of the Georgian Supreme Soviet, told reporters Thursday that Kikovani’s actions amount to an attempted coup d’etat.

″Under any military law, this should be punished severely, but in the tense situation, we will let it go. Things will sort themselves out on their own,″ Asatiani said.

He also appeared to reject pressure from a U.S. congressional commission on human rights that Georgia improve its democratic guarantees so that it might be recognized as a sovereign state.

″We will take no steps in order to achieve recognition by foreign countries,″ he said. ″We will live as an independent nation.″

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