3 Opposition Leaders Detained in Soviet Georgia; Protests Renewed
Three Georgian opposition leaders were detained Tuesday, spurring new protests against President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, with crowds forcing government-controlled television and radio off the air.
Georgy Chanturia, head of the National Democratic Party, was being held incommunicado at the Interior Ministry, according to aides. They said officials told them the opposition leader was refusing all food and water.
Chanturia, his wife, Irina Sarashvili, and Vakthang Talahadze, another National Democratic Party leader, were seized after Gamsakhurdia reportedly ordered their Moscow-bound flight returned to Tbilisi late Monday night.
“This has ignited all of the opposition,” said Talahadze, who was released after 12 hours in detention. “We will not stop fighting.”
The opposition claims Gamsakhurdia has become a dictator with no regard for democracy since the former political prisoner was elected president in May.
Demands that Gamsakhurdia step down have grown since Georgian Interior Ministry troops fired on protesters in Tbilisi on Sept. 2, wounding five people.
Georgia, a mountainous republic in the southern Soviet Union, has been engulfed in political turmoil for several months. Battles are waged almost daily in the South Ossetia region, which Gamsakhurdia stripped of the autonomy it had under Soviet rule.
Thousands of people heeded a call by former Prime Minister Tengiz Segua, a leader of the campaign to oust Gamsakhurdia, to rally Tuesday outside the state broadcasting center.
In August, Segua and former Foreign Minister Georgy Khostaria resigned to protest what they termed the president’s dictatorial style. Since then, many intellectuals who once supported Gamsakhurdia have joined the opposition.
Segua’s appeal came in a speech Monday night to tens of thousands of people at an opposition rally, the largest such gathering in Georgia in months.
Radio employees sympathetic to the opposition agreed to air Segua’s speech Tuesday morning. After the speech, the radio ceased broadcasting. There were no television broadcasts at all.
Chanturia and Sarashvili were accused of “anti-social actions,” government spokesman Georgy Burdjanadze said.