Abkhaz leader suspends interior minister following opposition protests

By bne IntelliNews July 8, 2016

The president of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, Raul Khajimba, temporarily suspended Interior Minister Leonid Dzapshba after some 1,500 opposition protesters stormed the building of the ministry on July 5 demanding the official's resignation. The opposition demanded Dzapshba’s removal due to a growing crime rate and the ministry's alleged clampdown on free expression ahead of July 10 referendum on early presidential elections.

The referendum was called on by the opposition itself, which has criticised Khajimba for failing to form a coalition government and to implement reforms. The head of the region complied, saying that he was not afraid of a popular vote. However, the protesting opposition group is now demanding that the referendum be postponed until the fall.

Khajimba told Russian media that the opposition's demands are “unacceptable” and that he would continue negotiations with them, despite the fact that their acts were “a provocation aimed at destabilising the political situation in Abkhazia”.

Meanwhile, demonstrators called for a boycott of the referendum because “authorities constantly violate the law”, “they came to power as a result of violations to the constitution and simply cannot comply with the law" and have "policies based on deception and lies”.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia are two regions that broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and have been at odds with Tbilisi ever since. Russia recognises their independence, but internationally they are deemed as part of Georgia. The issue of the two regions has affected Russian-Georgian relations since the early 1990s, with the most severe breakdown in diplomacy resulting in Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008.

On a separate issue, Khajimba said that Abkhazia would not extradite the Abkhaz border security guard that shot a Georgian citizen in May, and that the accused would be tried and sentenced by Abkhaz courts despite Tbilisi's calls to have him tried in Georgia. “A criminal case is being investigated. He has been suspended from work. If found guilty, he will incur the appropriate penalty. We have laws that enable us to [try] him,” he reportedly told Russian media according to Democracy& Freedom Watch. 

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