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Abkhaz President's Office Is Seized

Thousands of supporters of Abkhazia's opposition presidential candidate briefly seized the office of the outgoing president Friday, as tensions again spiked in the breakaway Georgian region nearly six weeks after a disputed -- and still unresolved -- election.

Demonstrators supporting Sergei Bagapsh, who has claimed victory in the Oct. 3 election, stormed the headquarters of outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba in the province's main city, Sukhumi.

Footage on Russian television showed people waving Abkhaz flags from the windows, and armed men celebrating with champagne and vodka in Ardzinba's office. Scattered fistfights were seen breaking out in the hallways. One man retreated in fear as half a dozen others clawed at his clothing.

One woman who was wounded at the building later died, Itar-Tass reported, while several people received minor injuries during the seizure.

Ardzinba, who was at home sick when the seizure occurred, characterized the seizure as an attempted coup.

Ardzinba blamed the woman's death on Bagapsh's supporters. Bagapsh said she was wounded when guards at the building opened fire.

The protesters cleared the building after Bagapsh, accompanied by his rival, Raul Khadzhimba, asked them to leave. Bagapsh told the crowd that Khadzhimba could join his government.

Bagapsh said Saturday that his supporters were still in the government compound and that they would remain there for the time being. He said the rooms inside had been sealed and handed over to police control.

Abkhazia, which has enjoyed de facto independence since Georgian troops were driven from the region in 1993, has been in turmoil since its first openly contested presidential vote on Oct. 3. Election officials ruled that Bagapsh won the vote, defeating Khadzhimba, the former prime minister, and the region's highest court later confirmed his victory.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Friday warning that Bagapsh supporters appeared to be staging a coup and that Russia could intervene in Abkhazia if violence continued.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry said the statement constituted interference in its internal affairs.

(The Moscow Times 15.xi.04)

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