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    TBILISI, February 20th, 2004 (RIA Novosti correspondent) - Aslan Abashidze's supporters destroyed the Batumi office of the Democratic Adzhharia opposition organisation at 5 pm Tbilisi time, spokesmen for the organisation told the Novosti-Georgia agency.

    According to them, Abashidze's supporters broke into the office and did a lot of damage to it. The Democratic Adzharia's office is located in a private flat that belongs to the head of the Batumi office, Gele Kikava.

    According to the Democratic Adzharia representatives, the situation in Batumi has sharply aggravated. Abashidze's supporters are attacking flats of the families of opposition members all across the city.

    According to the Novosti-Georgia agency, National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili has already stated that weapons are being used against peaceful civilians. "I want to warn all initiators of such clashes that they will be punished and prosecuted," said Merabishvili. He also expressed the hope that "the conflict in Batumi will end soon and the Georgian leadership will not have to take emergency measures." The situation in Batumi began aggravating after protests demanding Abashidze's resignation were organised by the opposition movement, Nasha Adzharia, in central Batumi on Friday morning. Afterwards, hundreds of Aslan Abashidze's supporters gathered near the Batumi theatre of opera and ballet next to the residence of the head of the autonomy.

    On Friday morning, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Walter Schwimmer arrived in Batumi. After his meeting with Abashidze, he headed for Nasha Adzharia's office to meet opposition members.

    When the meeting began, several thousand opposition representatives gathered outside the office. Then thousands of Abashidze's supporters came there from the Batumi theatre. They tried to squeeze out Nasha Adzharia representatives from the adjoining territory.

    This led to clashes between the opposition and Abashidze's supporters. The police tried to cordon off the sides, but in vain.

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