Bowing to a resignation threat by Georgian head of state Eduard A. Shevardnadze, Georgia’s Parliament on Tuesday imposed a two-month state of emergency on the war-ravaged country to combat a wave of criminal and paramilitary violence.
The vote came late in the evening, after Shevardnadze reacted to the Parliament’s reluctance to impose the emergency by tendering his resignation during a televised legislative session and stalking out of the hall with the words, “I’m fed up with it all.”
Later, the former Soviet foreign minister and KGB official appeared before a rally of 10,000 supporters in the capital, Tbilisi, to say he would retract his resignation only if Parliament approved the emergency and agreed to suspend its own actions for three months. After several hours, at a hastily called session, the Parliament agreed to grant the emergency.
The state of emergency is to begin next Monday. For the following eight weeks, according to a program Shevardnadze had proposed last Monday, all political activity will be sharply constrained, rallies and demonstrations forbidden, and the mass media subjected to censorship.
The rules are aimed, among other things, at combatting an insurgency led by ex-President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in a January, 1992, military coup and subsequently replaced by Shevardnadze, who himself won a democratic vote last October.
Vazha Adaniya, an opposition lawmaker, said pro-Shevardnadze deputies had quietly reconvened and approved the emergency measure behind the opposition’s back. While admitting that it would have passed anyway, he said the action “may well be totally counterproductive and instead of (producing) order lead to further anarchy and civil war.”
Tuesday’s developments brought to a critical point the steadily deteriorating political situation in the country of 5.3 million in the heart of the Caucasus region. For a year the Georgian army fought separatists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, once a favorite Soviet resort area. The conflict took more than 2,000 lives. In August, Shevardnadze signed a peace agreement with the separatists calling for mutual withdrawal from the front lines.
That withdrawal has proceeded intermittently under the eyes of U.N. observers. But just as peace seemed to be near on the Black Sea coast, supporters of Gamsakhurdia began a military advance in the west of the country. Ethnic clashes have also broken out in the Ossetia region of northern Georgia.
Meanwhile Georgia’s economy, once one of the strongest in the Soviet Union, has collapsed.
Deteriorating order in the countryside provoked Shevardnadze on Monday to propose the state of emergency. Spokesmen for the Georgian leader said the measures were aimed at “armed bands terrorizing the civilian population,” a reference to the Gamsakhurdia supporters. Government sources on Tuesday argued that Shevardnadze’s call for harsh measures to pacify the countryside is widely supported by Georgians, who have suffered what may be the most severe breakdown in public order of any former Soviet republic.
“They are simply tired of the chaos and terror reigning in the country,” said Vakhtang Abashidze, general director of Gruzinform, Georgia’s state news agency, in a telephone interview from Tbilisi. He said criminal gangs had taken advantage of the government’s preoccupation with the crisis in Abkhazia to overwhelm law enforcement agencies.
But discussion of the emergency proposal at Tuesday’s parliamentary session was interrupted by a statement from the floor by Dzhaba Ioseliani, who was a leader of the coup against Gamsakhurdia and is a former supporter of Shevardnadze. Ioseliani, who remains the head of a paramilitary organization, charged that Shevardnadze was attempting to establish a dictatorship “by Communist methods.”
Shevardnadze responded to Ioseliani’s charges by abruptly announcing his resignation at the televised session and then stalking out of the hall.
“If you want to have a head of state you could spit in the face and insult, I will not be him,” he said.
The resignation brought thousands of his supporters into the streets in front of the Parliament building, where they obstructed traffic and heard calls from Shevardnadze allies for the Parliament to resign. Parliament members later rejected Shevardnadze’s resignation by a vote of 149 to 0.
Times researcher Sergei Loiko contributed to this story.