Ajaria crisis to affect Armenian economy – paper

Ajaria crisis to affect Armenian economy – paper

Azg, Yerevan
17 Mar 04

Text of Tatul Akopyan report by Armenian newspaper Azg on 17 March
headlined “Saakashvili promises to gain a victory over Abashidze in
two weeks”

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s ultimatum to Ajarian leader
Aslan Abashidze expired on Monday [15 March]. Following tension
between the Georgian and Ajarian authorities after President Mikheil
Saakashvili proposed abolishing the Ajarian ministry of state security
and demanded that the autonomous republic’s leader Aslan Abashidze
detain those who attacked an opposition rally on 20 February,
Saakashvili presented Abashidze with an ultimatum to accept his
demands, otherwise “severe repressive measures will be taken”.

Moreover, as he was barred from entering Ajaria, Saakashvili added
more points to his ultimatum, the first of them being to allow him
(Saakashvili) to travel freely on the territory of the autonomous
republic to meet his voters (parliamentary elections in Georgia are
expected on 28 March).

Saakashvili also wanted to “disarm illegal armed groups” of 1,500
guerrillas in Ajaria and to allow the central authorities of Georgia
to “carry out their duties in the autonomous republic and control the
region’s borders and customs”, particularly the port of Batumi and the
Sarpi checkpoint between Georgia and Turkey. As was expected, Aslan
Abashidze did not give in to Tbilisi’s pressure and rejected the
ultimatum. An economic blockade was imposed on the defiant region of
Georgia on Monday with the Georgian navy barring ships from entering
the port of Batumi and the authorities freezing all the bank accounts
of Ajarian banks and organizations linked to the Ajarian
authorities. Air and sea communications were also cut off in a move
that Saakashvili described as a bid “to exhaust the Ajarian regime’s
resources in two weeks”. “In two weeks the Ajarian leadership’s
resources will be exhausted as a result of these sanctions,”
Saakashvili added, saying that “this is the first time that Georgia
has used these measures”.

The closure of the port of Batumi will have its direct impact on the
everyday market of the three South Caucasus countries, for most of the
products coming from Europe are sent, for example, to Armenia via the
port of Batumi. Anxiety about a possible fall in the volume of
products coming into Armenia was voiced by Armenian President Robert
Kocharyan at yesterday’s news conference where the Armenian leader
expressed the hope that the Ajarian and Georgian authorities will to
negotiate ways out of the current situation as soon as possible.

Fuel, grain, sugar, construction materials and various household goods
are shipped to Armenia via the port of Batumi. If the port stops
operating, this will naturally lead to a rise in the prices of
different products in Armenia.