Brawls, Arrests, Protests in Sokhumi Overnight

Abkhaz 'Deputy Tourism Minister' Detained over Shooting

Sokhumi, the regional capital of Abkhazia, was shaken on the night of December 2-3 by brawls and shooting involving officials, which, in a context of mounting concerns over deteriorating criminal situation, has resulted in a subsequent protest demanding the resignation of the leader, Aslan Bzhania. Perceived failures in law enforcement already led to the dismissal of ‘interior minister’, Dmitri Dbar on December 2.

The series of tumultuous events began with controversial police search operations into the houses of two women – Angela Brandzia and Lolita Khalvash – who the prosecutors accuse of running anonymous Facebook pages insulting and defaming officials.

Sokhumi-based Telegram channels Respublica and Amra Life reported that police first searched the house of Khalvash and then moved on to the house of Brandzia, where they were met with resistance from her friends, relatives and neighbors.

The standoff between the woman’s supporters and police turned into a massive scuffle outside Brandzia’s house in the street, as shown in several online footages of the incident.

Sometime during the scuffle, ‘deputy tourism minister’ Dato Kajaia and deputy chief of Aslan Bzhania’s administration Zurab Kajaia arrived at the scene. Dato Kajaia reportedly fired several times from his firearm and shooting and wounding one of the locals.

Following the incident, opposition group Aidgilara called on its supporters to pick arms, and gather outside their office, from where scores of people, outraged by the night’s events, took to Bzhania’s residence and reportedly demanded his resignation.

One of the leaders of Aidgilara, Kan Kvarchia, went in to negotiate with Bzhania, and told supporters afterwards that the Abkhaz leader had promised to examine the incident and to hold the wrongdoers accountable by his special decision in the morning. “Everyone should get what they deserve,” said Kvarchia, warning that protesters would come knocking again, if Bzhania fails to deliver on his promise.

Chief prosecutor Adgur Agrba told the Russian state-owned TASS agency early on December 3 that Dato Kajaia was disarmed and detained following the shooting. According to the prosecutor, Kajaia’s victim was lightly wounded and did not require hospitalization. The prosecutor said the authorities also detained the two women, who are reportedly being probed for charges of “insulting a government official.” 

Later in the day, Sokhumi-based Apsnypress agency reported that Abkhaz ‘prime minister’ Alexander Ankvab dismissed Dato Kajaia and Rash Tsvizhba from their posts of deputy ‘tourism and interior ministers,’ respectively. Zurab Kajaia, meanwhile, filed his resignation as the deputy chief of Bzhania’s administration.

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