The Ajarian Autonomous Republic’s Supreme Soviet issued on December 9 a statement protesting against Tbilisi’s refusal to authorize the creation of a free economic zone in the Black Sea port of Batumi, Ajaria’s capital. The statement accused Tbilisi of "ignoring the autonomous republic’s interests" and of "solving none of Ajaria’s pressing problems in the last few years." The Georgian parliament last week held hearings during which most participants opposed an Ajarian free economic zone out of a concern that it could stimulate "separatism." President Eduard Shevardnadze then told the press that creating the zone "would be premature at this point." (Interfax, December 9).
The Ajarian protest is unprecedented in its openness, tone, and apparent attempt to draw international attention by being timed to the opening in Tbilisi of a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC). Until now, Ajaria has been an oasis of stability in stark contrast to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Ajarian Supreme Soviet chairman Aslan Abashidze, in firm control of his republic, has consistently maintained cooperative relations with Tbilisi, as he also has with neighboring Turkey and with the Russian military based in Ajaria. Tbilisi cannot afford a third breakaway movement.
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