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Georgia shooting shatters holiday

By GUY CHAZAN

MOSCOW -- Forces fighting to oust Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia stepped up their attacks on New Year's Eve, shattering hopes of a holiday peace in the capital of Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, reports by the Russian media and the leading opposition party said Gamsakhurdia has had two top administration officials arrested in Government House.

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Gamsakhurdia has been holed up in the government headquarters amid fighting that began earlier this month between his supporters and opposition forces.

New Year's Eve battles raged in downtown Tbilisi as the armed opposition won back territory taken by government forces over the weekend, but Gamsakhurdia loyalists were firing small-caliber rockets to drive back the opposition, the Tass news agency reported.

Gamsakhurdia, accused of ruling Georgia as a dictator since he swept to power in a landslide last May, has steadfastly refused to bow to repeated opposition demands to resign.

The opposition is led by former Prime Minister Tengis Sigua and former national guard chief Tengis Kitovani, who predicted earlier that Gamsakhurdia would be gone by New Year's Day.

The opposition has been bolstered by other Gamsakhurdia administration officials calling on Gamsdakhurdia to resign or urging him to negotiate.

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Two top administration officials have been arrested, according to reports by the Tass and Interfax news agencies, Russian television news and the main opposition group, the Georgian National Democratic Party.

Deputy Defense Minister Nodar Giorgadze and Foreign Minister Murman Omanidze were arrested, according to Tass.

Gamsakhurdia ordered Giorgadze arrested after he and another deputy defense minister urged Gamsakhurdia to step down, Tass said. Giorgadze served as the popular leader of a veterans group from the Afghanistan war and there was speculation his arrest could bring Afghanistan war veterans into the conflict.

Omanidze has been one of Gamsakhurdia's closest aides, and no explanation was given in the reports of his arrest.

The Georgian mission in Moscow said it was unable to confirm or refute the claims, saying it had lost touch with the Georgia government because telephone links to Tbilisi, the capital, were down.

Giorgadze's arrest was reportedly prompted by his talks with the opposition to try and stop the fighting. Afterwards, Giorgadze told the president to either negotiate or resign, Interfax reported. Gamsakhurdia responded by declaring him a 'traitor,' the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.

Other government representatives who took part in the talks, notably Deputy Defense Minister Besik Kutateladze, have joined the opposition side.

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Interfax, citing information from National Democratic Party leaders, also said Gamsakhurdia had ordered two leading figures in Georgia government and politics shot, but this could not be confirmed.

The oppostion also received a boost last Friday when the Georgian KGB released three leading political prisoners.

One of them, Dzhava Ioseliani, a 64-year-old professor and head of an armed opposition group, vowed to bring more fighters to the rebel side.

Another freed dissident, Georgy Chanturia, leader of the National Democratic Party, called the struggle a fight 'against a bloody dictatorship.'

He said only Gamsakhurdia's resignation would restore peace.

The Georgia government news service issued a statement saying, 'This is a military coup attempt being made by the national guard headed by Tengis Kitovani and the intransigent opposition who joined it.'

Several thousand loyal troops were reported guarding Government House and more troops were said to be leaving another Georgia hot spot, Ossetia in northern Georgia, to defend the president.

Georgia is the only one of the 12 former Soviet republics that has not joined the Commonwealth of Independent States.

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