Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who left Moscow to lead his native Georgia, survived an apparent assassination attempt Tuesday when a bomb exploded near his motorcade. He escaped with only cuts from flying glass.
Shevardnadze, best known for helping to carry out the perestroika reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, has been trying to restore stability to this nation, which has been torn apart by rising crime and a separatist rebellion.
Shevardnadze has been leader of Georgia since 1992.
Immediately after the explosion, Shevardnadze, clearly shaken, condemned those who had organized the explosion as terrorists and criminals out to destabilize the former Soviet republic ahead of November presidential elections he is expected to win.
“They want the Mafia to run the country. They will not get it,” he told local television. “This is the last act of terrorism in Georgia. The whole people will rise and raze them to the ground.”
Reuters Television showed him sitting in a hospital chair and looking dazed. His face and hands were cut and spotted with blood. “They are cowards,” Shevardnadze said.
The bomb exploded Tuesday outside Parliament just as his motorcade was about to leave the building en route to a signing ceremony for a new constitution. Several people were injured, and at least six cars were blown apart.
A few seriously wounded people were wheeled into the hospital on stretchers. The injured reportedly included Shevardnadze’s chief of staff and some of his bodyguards.
Shevardnadze, once Georgia’s Communist-era boss, has made many enemies while trying to dilute the power of warlords and secessionists.
In recent months, he has ordered the main paramilitary group, the Sakartvelos Mkhedrioni, to disarm and has pushed through the new constitution.
The document creates a presidency with greater powers than Shevardnadze now has as head of state and chairman of Parliament.
“It’s clear Shevardnadze’s enemies tried to assassinate the head of our state to stop the signing ceremony,” said his spokesman, Ramaz Sakvarelidze.
Shevardnadze, 67, who resigned as Soviet foreign minister in December, 1990, returned to lead Georgia after its first elected president, the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was ousted in a coup.
Shevardnadze foiled several assassination attempts as Georgia’s Communist boss from 1972 to 1985. During Georgia’s 1993 war in the breakaway Abkhazia region, he went to the front lines and survived several near-hits from shells.
Parliament and the Cabinet called an emergency session Tuesday night, and tanks surrounded the television center and Parliament building.