TBILISI (Reuters)–Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili warned on Saturday he would use force to stop the country from falling apart after the rebellious Ajaria region introduced a state of emergency.
Ajaria’s parliamentary speaker Georgy Tsintsikladze said the Black Sea region–which includes the major oil-shipping port of Batumi–had taken the decision because it had information Georgia was preparing armed forces for an invasion.
"If there is a real threat of disintegration of the country–we shall use weapons to save Georgia’s unity. May everyone know that," Saakashvili told a military parade marking the end of a stage of training provided by the United States.
Saakashvili–elected in January after leading a bloodless revolution that ousted veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze–wants to bring Ajaria and two other breakaway regions–South Ossetia and Abkhazia–under central control.
He said he backed a peaceful solution–but added: "We shall not allow anyone to threaten and blackmail Georgia’s authorities and people." US AND RUSSIAN INTERESTS Russia has spoken in favor of the former Soviet republic of Georgia remaining united–though it has given tacit support to Ajaria–South Ossetia–and Abkhazia. The United States–friendly to Saakashvili–is keen to ensure security in a region full of strategic oil and gas reserves and pipelines.
Saakashvili said he had the support of a military brigade that had been headed by one of two Georgian military commanders who said this week they backed Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze.
"I want to offer special greetings to the 25th Batumi brigade which is now back in Tbilisi in its full force to return to Batumi to liberate Batumi," he said.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Tsintsikladze as announcing the state of emergency on Saturday.
"Under the current situation–which is being made worse by the hour–we have taken the most reasonable and correct decision–to return to a state of emergency and to introduce a curfew," said Tsintsikladze.
Ajaria declared a night-time curfew last month when tension with the Georgian government came close to confrontation after the rebel region refused to let Saakashvili into the area.
After the standoff–Saakashvili and Abashidze appeared to settle differences in talks–with the regional leader agreeing to give up some powers. But that deal has since broken down.
On Thursday–Saakashvili denounced Abashidze as a "major problem" linked to criminal elemen’s.
A day later–he expressed frustration at Abashidze’s accusations that Georgia intended to invade his region. Ajaria–Saakashvili said–was Georgian territory.
Ajaria has never declared independence–unlike the two other breakaway regions–but Abashidze has run it as a personal fiefdom since the fall of the Soviet Union.