Tbilisi Marks 1989 Soviet Crackdown

TBILISI, Georgia -- Hundreds of Georgians, including Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, laid flowers Thursday on a street in downtown Tbilisi where Soviet troops brutally dispersed a pro-independence rally in 1989.

Twenty people, mostly women and children, were killed when Soviet troops moved against protesters who were demanding independence for Georgia and the ouster of its Communist leadership.

"That sacred blood wasn't shed in vain. It will always unite the nation,'' Shevardnadze said. At the time of the crackdown, he was serving as Soviet foreign minister and was outside the country.

The 1989 protest was organized by nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who became Georgia's first popularly elected president two years later. In early 1992, he was overthrown in a coup by opponents who accused him of dictatorship. Gamsakhurdia died in mysterious circumstances in 1994.

His followers have never recognized the presidency of Shevardnadze, who was elected several months after Gamsakhurdia's ouster. Some 1,000 of them marched across the capital Thursday carrying such slogans as "Down with the junta" and "Shevardnadze is Judas."

The rally wasn't sanctioned by the authorities, but police didn't intervene and it proceeded without incident.

Followers of Gamsakhurdia have been blamed for a Feb. 9 attack on Shevardnadze's motorcade in which up to 20 attackers showered the president's car with bullets and grenades. Shevardnadze was unharmed in the attack.

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