Abkhaz Vice President Survives Fourth Assassination Attempt
Liz Fuller, RFE/RL
Aleksandr Ankvab escaped with minor shrapnel wounds when an unknown attacker opened fire with a grenade launcher on his home in Gudauta early this morning. It was the fourth (possibly even the fifth) attempt on his life in the past five years.
The motive for today's attack remains unclear, although according to unconfirmed reports Ankvab is perceived as capable of forcing the resignation of embattled de facto President Sergei Bagapsh, who was reelected last December to a second term. Bagapsh has denounced the attack as a bid to destabilize the breakaway Georgian region.
Ankvab is 58 and a lawyer by training. He served in 1992-93 as Abkhaz interior minister under then-President Vladislav Ardzinba, then moved to Moscow and went into business. He returned to Abkhazia in 2000 and established an opposition party, Aytayra, but was barred from participating in the 2004 presidential election as he had not been domiciled in Abkhazia for the previous five years.
Bagapsh, who was first elected president in a repeat ballot in January 2005 following a standoff between himself and his defeated Moscow-backed rival Raul Khajimba, immediately named Ankvab prime minister. The first two attempts on Ankvab's life, which he attributed to his stated intention to crack down on crime, took place within months. He received minor injuries in July 2007 when unidentified perpetrators fired an antitank shell at his car.
Bagapsh has been under repeated pressure from the opposition, in particular the Forum of National Unity headed by Khajimba, for over a year, most recently as a result of media reports of a purported agreement between the Abkhaz and Russian governments that would enable former Georgian residents of Abkhazia who now hold Russian passports to return to Abkhazia and reclaim property they abandoned when they fled during the war of 1992-93. Bagapsh has decreed the creation of a special commission to review property claims by holders of Russian citizenship.
According to "Caucasus Times," popular dissatisfaction with Bagapsh is rising, and preparations are under way for a mass public protest in Lykhny, the traditional venue for such popular assemblies. The online daily also quoted unnamed opposition politicians as confirming that an assembly is indeed planned but simultaneously denying any involvement in organizing it.