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Georgian Talks Left In Disarray

Georgia's opposition on Thursday demanded veteran President Eduard Shevardnadze step down to avoid exacerbating a political crisis in a country already on the edge of economic despair. Speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 protesters, who have demonstrated almost daily against a Nov. 2 poll victory for the authorities, opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili urged them to remain peaceful and not provoke government forces.

The political turmoil, which could dent Western hopes of a stable partner in the Caucasus to secure an alternative source of oil, was triggered by the election and has intensified, with the two sides failing to agree how and where to conduct talks. Western powers have appealed to both sides to resolve the crisis peacefully, hoping to avoid a resurgence of the unrest and separatist violence that shattered the country in the early 1990s.

Shevardnadze has dug in his heels in what analysts say is an effort to wear the opposition down by dragging talks out for weeks. A third attempt at talks to resolve the standoff ended in disarray late on Wednesday, with Saakashvili walking out. The opposition leader said he believed Georgia's other opposition bloc would join calls for Shevardnadze's ouster. Earlier, his fellow opposition leader, Nino Burdzhanadze, said she wanted talks to continue but had been stonewalled by government.

Minor scuffles broke out outside the presidential office where four hunger strikers tried to protest. They were dragged away by dozens of security officers. Earlier, a determined Shevardnadze said he wanted a dialogue with the protesters to ease tensions.

Shevardnadze could still compromise by offering to hand his party's election victory to the opposition, analysts said.

(The Moscow Times 14.xi.03)

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