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    MOSCOW MAYOR TO ACT AS PEACE-MAKER BETWEEN TBILISI AND BATUMI

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    TBILISI, March 17, 2004. (RIA Novosti) -- Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is arriving in the capital of Georgia from Batumi on Wednesday to meet with President Mikhail Saakashvili.

    As the press service of the Georgian Parliament said, speaker of the republic's higher legislative body Nino Bourdzhanadze and Minister of State Security Zurab Adeishvili will, for their part, go to Batumi to meet with leader of the Adzhar autonomy Aslan Abashidze.

    In a conversation with journalists the Adzhar leader did not rule out the possibility to resume the peaceful dialogue with Mr. Saakashvili, who is expected to come to Batumi on March 18.

    Georgia's Prime Minister Zourab Zhvania told journalists on the day before, "I want to state with full responsibility that no threat to the administrative-territorial set-up of the Adzhar autonomy emanates from the centre. Besides that, no one views the stay of Aslan Abashidze on the post of the head of Adzharia as a problem. It is the autonomy's population that decides this question." According to Mr. Zhvania, "the centre demands constitutional order on the territory of Adzharia, and will not tolerate violations of human rights and persecution of people holding special views on the political processes in Adzharia." The head of the government noted that the economic blockade of the autonomy, declared by Tbilisi, is not directed against Adzharia's population. "All the measures of the economic blockade are directed against the autonomy's authorities. Moreover, we have envisaged a humanitarian aspect - food assistance to the autonomy's population - within the economic sanctions vis-a-vis Adzharia," Mr. Zhvania said.

    In the meanwhile, on Tuesday the members of the Association of Independent Economists of Georgia stated that the economic blockade, imposed with regard to Adzharia on March 15, has done serious economic damage to the autonomy.

    The arrest of the legal entities' accounts and the discontinuation of the transfer of national currency in cash caused a deficit of national currency lari ($1=2.01 lari) in Adzharia. The subsidiaries of Georgia's commercial banks, in effect, stopped working, while one of Georgia's largest banks, MBG, closed its office in Batumi on Tuesday.

    The shut-down of the Sarpi checkpoint on the border with Turkey for trucks and the closure of the Batumi port dramatically reduced the autonomy's budget revenues. As a result, railway freight transportation on the whole territory of Georgia has tangibly diminished.

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