WASHINGTON – The United States on Saturday urged all sides in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to avoid violence and try to negotiate an end to the constitutional crisis that has led to a state of emergency.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) made a joint telephone call to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on Saturday afternoon, a State Department official said. explained his efforts to bring stability to the situation. The secretary and secretary-general said that they would continue to closely follow the situation and stay in touch."
Earlier, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher (search) said the United States was monitoring "the troubling and rapidly developing situation in and around the parliament building" in confrontations between supporters and opponents of the government.
Shevardnadze promised in a televised address that "order will be restored, and the criminals will be punished." He declared a 30-day state of emergency.
The United States urged all parties "to refrain from the use of force or violence, and to enter into a dialogue with a view to restoring calm and reaching a compromise solution acceptable to all and in the interest of Georgia," Boucher said.
The United States has had troops training counterterror forces for more than a year in Georgia, a Caucasus Mountains (search) republic with a 100-mile-long coastline on the Black Sea. The $64 million mission is scheduled to continue through next May.
U.S. troops, led by a contingent of Marines, are training Georgian forces in a variety of military tactics and providing the Georgians with equipment such as uniforms and communications gear.
The mission in Georgia is part of the Bush administration's plans to help friendly countries fight terrorists. Georgia shares a border with the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya, and Russian officials say Al Qaeda-linked terrorists have used Georgian territory, principally the Pankisi Valley, to hide out and rearm.
No changes are planned in the mission. "We have an agreement with the government of Georgia and a commitment to them," said Maj. Jim Keefe, a spokesman for the Marine Corps command in Europe. "We foresee no changes to the program. Everything is as it was."
Boucher's statement avoided the sort of harsh criticism of Shevardnadze's government in previous department statements issued in the three weeks since supporters of the president were declared winners of parliamentary elections. Georgian opposition leaders, the United States and other foreign observers considered the elections fraudulent.
Shevardnadze has been a favorite of U.S. leaders since he emerged as Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign minister in the mid-1980s. He served five years, pushing a "new thinking" foreign policy. He resigned just before Christmas 1990, complaining that Gorbachev again had Russia on the road to dictatorship. Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day the following year.
On Thursday, the administration said official results of the election "do not accurately reflect the will of the Georgian people" and said the polling was marred by "massive vote fraud."
The State Department urged Shevardnadze's government "to conduct an independent and transparent investigation immediately and to hold accountable those who violated the law."
Lynn Pascoe, a deputy assistant secretary of state, was in Georgia last week and met with Shevardnadze and some opposition figures. "Politics, as we all know, is the art of compromise," Pascoe said after the Shevardnadze meeting. "It's important for Georgia to step up and do this at this time."
Shevardnadze's second and last term under the constitution expires in 2005. He came to power after a 5,000-member paramilitary force mounted a coup in January 1992 that drove from office Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first president, and asked Shevardnadze to return from Russia to take the presidency of his newly independent homeland.
The nation's 4.4 million people have known little except economic misery, corruption, rebellions and crime under his rule.