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Communist Leader Resigns In Soviet Georgia

April 14, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ The Communist Party chief of Soviet Georgia resigned today in an emergency meeting about violent, nationalist demonstrations in the southern republic, and he was replaced by the local KGB chief, officials said.

Gennady Gerasimov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Moscow the Georgian party leader, First Secretary Dzhumber I. Patiashvili, offered his resignation and the Central Committee accepted it.

Givi G. Gumbaridze, 45, who has been Georgia’s KGB chief for two months, was named to replace Patiashvili, said Zhorab Lomidze, deputy director of the official Georgian news agency Gruzinform.

The committee also removed two other members of Georgia’s ruling Politburo, Premier Zurab Chkheidze and President Otari Cherkeziya, Gerasimov said.

That means they lose their seats on the top party body, but they remain premier and president, he said. ″They voiced a desire to leave their (government) posts, but it is not a question that is to be resolved by the plenary (party) meeting,″ Gerasimov said.

However, Lomidze said Cherkeziya had not been removed from the Politburo. Asked later by telephone about the conflicting report, Gerasimov said he could not immediately clarify it.

In shaking up the leadership of the southern republic in the Caucasus Mountains, Georgian party officials were following a pattern set last year in the neighboring republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. After four months of nationalist protests, the Armenian and Azerbaijani party chiefs were fired, apparently as a sign of displeasure with their handling of the unrest.

Regarding today’s meeting in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, Gerasimov said that after a heated discussion the committee unamimously ″met the request of comrade Patiashvili and relieved him of the post of the first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party.″

Gerasimov did not give a reason for the shake-up or say exactly what was discussed. But he said earlier that the leadership had accepted responsibility for ordering soldiers to clear pro-independence demonstrators in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, on Sunday. At least 19 people were killed.

Signs posted at Tbilisi State University after the clash called Patiashvili a ″killer.″ Patiashvili, 49, was elected first secretary in July 1985.

The Soviet foreign minister, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, a Georgian who preceded Patiashvili as the republic’s party chief, attended today’s meeting.

The official news agency Tass said the Politburo decribed the situation in the republic as ″strained,″ with universities and schools still shut by boycotts. It said factories and public transport were operating normally.

Lomidze, however, said some businesses in Tbilisi were not operating at normal levels because of a strike that began a week ago in the city of 1.2 million people, 900 miles south of Moscow.

Leda Archvadze, the sister-in-law of arrested Georgian human rights activist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, said a memorial has appeared outside Government House, the site of the bloody confrontation.

″There are mountains of flowers. Every day people place fresh flowers,″ she said in a telephone interview today from Tbilisi.

About 2,000 people marched through the streets Thursday for a funeral for one of the victims, psychiatrist Zia Djinjaradze, 42, according to human rights activist. No funerals were scheduled today, but more were planned Saturday and Sunday, said Lomidze and Ms. Archvadze.

Nationalists have demanded the resignation of the local government and a special session of the Georgian Parliament to consider secession from the Soviet Union, according to official and unofficial sources.

Demonstrations in Georgia first began April 4, when protesters criticized calls from members of the republic’s ethnic Abkhazian minority to break away because of alleged discrimination by Georgians.

Other protesters have demanded Georgia secede from the Soviet Union because of alleged interference from the central government.

Gerasimov told reporters on Thursday that a commission is investigating whether soldiers who broke up Sunday’s protest had short metal shovels customarily used for digging trenches.

If an investigation finds soldiers beat the protesters with shovels, ″there is a question of whether these people should be punished,″ he said.

The Red Army newspaper today quoted medical examiners conducting the investigation as saying they had found no evidence on victims’ bodies of gunshot or stab wounds.

A curfew remains in effect in Tbilisi, Gerasimov said. Foreign reporters have been barred from traveling to Georgia since unrest there began.