Tension Runs High in Akhalkalak

AKHALKALAK (Armenpress)–Around 1,000 anti-Armenian Russian-language posters carrying the state emblem of Turkey were found pasted to buildings in Akhalkalak in southern Georgia on Tuesday morning.

Signed "The Akhaltsikhe Liberation Army," the posters ordered local Armenia’s to move out of the region–to Armenia–USA and elsewhere–otherwise "be slaughtered as your grandparents were in 1915."

Local Armenian organizations and many residents of the town say this is another attempt to terrorize local Armenia’s and destabilize the mostly Armenian populated region. The local administration convened an extraordinary session with law-enforcement bodies urging them to track down and punish the perpetrators.

Akhalkalak–the main town in the predominantly Armenian-populated Javakhk region of Georgia–which borders Armenia–was the site of a protest rally on October 5–after tax officials from Tbilisi closed ten shops for alleged financial irregularities.

The shop owners–mostly ethnic Armenia’s–and about 300 supporters–gathered outside the Akhalkalak’s administration building to protest the violation of their rights.

Local police dispersed the rally using rubber truncheons and firing shots in the air. The clash between the authorities and the protesters left several people injured. Police efforts to break up the rally prompted more residents of Akhalkalak and nearby villages to join the protest–making the situation even more tense.

Giorgi Khachidze–the governor of the region appointed by Geornia’s President–managed to calm the angry crowd through negotiations. Khachidze criticized the police for excessive use of force and promised to hold some of them accountable.

"In my opinion–they had no right to fire shots–even in the air," he was quoted by Rustavi-2 TV as saying on October 6. Meanwhile–President Mikhail Saakashvili hailed police actions–saying–"there is no serious problem" and emphasized that law-enforcement officials were merely maintaining order in a region that had been poorly controlled in recent years.

Saakashvili and other Georgian officials have tried to downplay the latest events in Akhalkalak–claming that the radical organizations advocating autonomy for the region do not enjoy serious popular support.

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