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Hundreds of protesters storm presidential administration headquarters in Abkhazia

Source: Meduza
AP / Scanpix / LETA

On the afternoon of January 9, protesters stormed the Abkhazian presidential administration’s headquarters in Sukhumi. Estimates of the number of people who gathered outside the building range from 500 to 800; some demanded that the president of the partially recognized breakaway republic, Raul Khajimba, submit his resignation. The opposition party Aytaira supported the protester’s demands, calling on Khajimba to leave his post to avoid “a even worse scenario.”

The storming of the Abkhazian presidential administration
Sputnik in Russian

The protesters began entering the building at approximately 1:00 PM Moscow time. They broke down doors and windows inside. Security guards attempted to close off the entrance to the building. TASS estimated that a few dozen people managed to get inside, but the guards confined them to one part of the building. The president’s office was placed under enhanced protection. Akhra Avidzba, one of the action’s organizers, said the protesters would not allow disorderly behavior during their occupation of the building and that they would “chip in” to replace its broken glass.

The opposition takes the Khajimba administration’s building in Sukhumi
David Zhvania

Some believe the protests stemmed from Abkhazia’s presidential election. Others say they were triggered by a triple murder in Sukhumi. The opposition protest began outside Abkhazia’s Supreme Court, which was scheduled to consider a lawsuit submitted by opposition leader Alkhas Kvitsinia challenging the results of September’s vote count (Kvitsinia lost to Khajimba by 1.22 percent of the vote). During the course of the court hearing, the protesters moved to the presidential headquarters, and the court chose to postpone its hearing indefinitely as a result. Kvitsinia then demanded that the members of Abkhazia’s parliament persuade the president to resign.

One protester told RIA Novosti outside the presidential administration building that the crowd was responding to a shootout that took place in central Sukhumi on November 22, 2019. On that day, a group of people in masks opened fire on the outdoor veranda of a restaurant called San Remo. Two organized crime leaders and a waitress died, and three other individuals were injured. Protest organizer Arkha Avidzba told TASS that one of the suspects allegedly works as a bodyguard for the president.

Several demonstrators were injured and carried away from the scene by ambulance, RIA Novosti reported. Alkhas Kvitsinia confirmed the injuries to The Caucasian Knot: “There were injuries during clashes with the police,” he said. According to RIA Novosti, a fight also broke out among some of the protesters. Abkhazia’s Health Ministry initially claimed that no injuries had occurred, but the agency later reported that medical aid had been provided to those injured.

Raul Khajimba left the building after the protest began, Akhra Avidza told Interfax. Khajimba himself told the news agency that he remained at work in Sukhumi and that he was not “planning on hiding anywhere.” However, the president’s press service reported that Khajimba was at a government dacha, or country house.

The Abkhazian presidential administration considers the protest to be an attempted coup. Khajimba ordered military and police forces to heighten security. “If necessary, I will introduce measures to initiate a state of emergency in the country,” Khajimba said following a meeting with the Abkhazian Security Council.

Russian diplomats called on Russian citizens to avoid the protests in Abkhazia. “We are following the development of the situation in Sukhumi in connection with the opposition storming of the presidential administration building. Conditions in the capital, excluding the city center, are generally stable,” the Russian consulate in Abkhazia posted on social media.

Report by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Hilah Kohen