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Abkhaz Leader Escapes Assassination Attempt

February 22, 2012

The leader of the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia has survived an assassination attempt.

Two of Aleksandr Ankvab's bodyguards, however, were killed and another bodyguard was reported seriously injured in the attack on the morning of February 22 in the Abkhaz town of Gudauta.

Reports say attackers detonated a land mine as a motorcade carrying Ankvab drove by, then fired upon the motorcade with a grenade launcher and machine gun.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as Abkhazia is set to hold parliamentary elections next month.

Stanislav Lakoba, secretary of the separatist National Security Council, told reporters that the search is under way to find those responsible for what he descibed as a terrorist act.

"At this moment, [police] are actively searching to find the perpetrators. The president is now at his workplace, doing his job," Lakoba said.

Abkhaz presidential spokesman Kristian Zhania said officials do not believe the assassination attempt has any connection with Georgian government authorities, who view the Abkhaz separatist administration as illegal.

Sixth Assassination Attempt

The spokesman said the attack was the sixth attempt on the 59-year-old president's life.

His car came under gunfire twice in 2005 and again in 2007 when he was prime minister of Abkhazia.

He was wounded in September 2010 when his house was targeted by a grenade launcher. He was vice president at the time.

Ankvab, who has vowed to fight corruption and crime in the separatist territory, was elected president in August last year after the death of previous leader Sergei Bagapsh.

The separatist administration is heavily dependent on aid from its main ally, the Russian government. Moscow provides nearly 70 percent of the separatist region's annual budget, and Abkhazia uses the Russian ruble as its currency.

Abkhazia has been recognized as an independent state by Russia and a few other nations -- but most of the international community regards it as still part of Georgia.

The Georgian authorities in Tbilisi say Abkhazia is completely dominated by Russia, and note that Moscow maintains Russian troops in the breakaway region.

A leader of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia, Timur Mzhavia, told RFE/RL that Ankvab is well known for his "firm and uncompromised fight against corruption and therefore he certainly has numerous enemies" among some Abkhaz factions.

Ankvab worked in Georgia's law-enforcement structures in Soviet times, and he was appointed Georgia's deputy interior minister at the age of 28. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, he joined Abkhaz separatist movements and took part in the Georgian-Abkhaz war in the 1990s.

He later moved to Moscow before returning to Abkhazia and launching his political career in 2000.


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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