Opposition leaders say they hold power in Abkhazia

SUKHUMI Georgia Fri May 30, 2014 8:03am EDT

Opposition protesters gather outside the presidential headquarters in Sukhumi, the capital of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia May 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Nina Zotina

Opposition protesters gather outside the presidential headquarters in Sukhumi, the capital of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia May 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Nina Zotina

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SUKHUMI Georgia (Reuters) - Opposition leaders said on Friday they now held power in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia, despite President Alexander Ankvab's refusal to quit after protesters stormed his headquarters.

The opposition formed a Provisional National Council in the Russian-backed province after protesters angered by alleged corruption and misrule broke into the presidential administration building in the main city, Sukhumi, on Tuesday.

Ankvab fled the building and has not returned. Asked who now held power, opposition leader Raul Khadzhimba told Reuters in the presidential building: "The Provisional National Council."

"We are working to create the conditions for ministries and other departments to work in peace," he said. "The president must understand that he has no choice."

Khadzhimba, who lost an election to Ankvab in 2011, said the

president was on a military base under Russian jurisdiction outside Sukhumi. Ankvab has not confirmed his whereabouts.

Beslan Gurdzha, a member of the provisional council, said: "The reality is that the president and the cabinet have already been out of power for three days."

Whoever leads Abkhazia, it will continue to have close ties with Moscow, on which it depends for political and economic assistance. The opposition describes the unrest as a local issue and draws no parallels with events outside the province.

But any bloodshed or protracted unrest could be embarrassing for Russia, which angered the United States by recognizing Abkhazia as an independent state and recently annexed another breakaway region - Crimea - from Ukraine.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both relatively poor provinces in Georgia, were the focus of a war between Georgia and Russia in 2008 and now rely on Moscow's backing.

PARLIAMENTARY VOTE

Ankvab posted an interview on his website on Friday in which he said he was ignoring an appeal by parliamentarians to quit and to sack his prime minister.

The appeal was backed by 20 of the 21 members of the 35-seat parliament who were present at a session on Thursday.

"I am not dismissing the prime minister," Ankvab said.

"As for the proposal that I resign voluntarily, I will not respond until I hold consultations with the significant number of deputies who did not take part in the parliament session, as well as with voters and with social and political organizations that have supported the lawful authorities during these days and are urging the opposition to return to a constitutional path."

The standoff has continued in Abkhazia, a lush province on the Black Sea with a population of about 240,000 and no major industry, despite a hasty visit this week by a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ankvab left the presidential headquarters after protesters, demanding reforms and an end to alleged corruption, broke windows and doors and entered the building while he was holding talks with opposition leaders.

He said in a statement on Wednesday that he was still in Abkhazia and described the events as an attempted coup d'etat.

Abkhazia broke from Georgian rule in a 1992-93 war after the Soviet Union collapsed. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific island of Nauru regard it as a sovereign state.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman and Timothy Heritage, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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