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New Burst of Fighting Erupts in Georgian Capital

From Reuters

Heavy gunfire erupted early today in the most intense fighting in five days of battles between government and opposition forces in this Georgian capital.

Fires raging around the battered Parliament building lit the night sky as rebel national guardsmen poured artillery and rocket fire into President Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s stronghold.

There was no immediate word on new casualties in the fighting, which has already taken at least 42 lives since Sunday.

“We don’t know what is happening, just that there is heavy firing around Parliament,” a Health Ministry spokesman said.

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Ambulances could not get through to the barricaded Parliament and other government buildings on Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue.

Electricity was cut off to large parts of the city that lies south of the Caucasus mountains, plunging its population of 1.2 million people into darkness.

The fighting, after a lull on Thursday, was the heaviest since Sunday when opposition forces launched their latest bid to topple Gamsakhurdia, whom they accuse of trying to stifle the former Soviet republic’s fledgling democracy.

Gamsakhurdia, 52, elected by a landslide last May, denies that he is anti-democratic.

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“This is a lie. We have all the rights and freedoms, a free press and free political life,” he said in an interview with the ABC Television on Thursday.

He refused to surrender. Both sides said they are ready for a cease-fire and peace negotiations, but accused the other of refusing to talk.

Georgia is the only one of the 12 former Soviet republics that has not joined the new Commonwealth of Independent States.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Foreign Minister Murman Omanidze assailed a recent speech by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, saying it only encouraged the violence raging here. In the speech, Baker criticized the Tblisi government as “undeserving of our acceptance and support.”

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