Supporters of Ousted Georgian President Fail in Attempt to Topple State Council

GEORGIAN loyalist forces put down an attempt by supporters of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia to return him to power yesterday and a government official said there was heavy loss of life.

A spokesman for the ruling State Council said first figures showed 40 rebels died and many others were wounded when national guardsmen recaptured the television studios and tower seized by the rebels early in the day. There was no independent confirmation of the death toll.

He said the leaders of the short-lived rebellion, which was apparently limited to the capital Tbilisi, were under arrest.

Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze told a crowd of supporters outside the ruling State Council offices that he would now leave on a delayed trip to meet Russian President Boris Yeltsin near the Black Sea resort of Dagomys.

"The putsch is over," Mr. Shevardnadze said. "The coup has failed and I will leave with a clean conscience for Dagomys."

He later told Georgian local radio the rebels had sought to block the talks, set to include leaders of North and South Ossetia, and focus on Georgian-Russian rivalry in the region.

"The goal of the `bandits' among the supporters of the former president was to undermine the meeting in Dagomys," Shevardnadze said.

National guardsmen backed by heavy weapons and helicopters recaptured the television station in a lightning assault shortly after a government ultimatum ordered the insurgents to surrender within two hours or face an assault.

The rebels - their numbers estimated by the government at between 100 and 300 - had seized the television center and tower and proclaimed the return of Mr. Gamsakhurdia, an ultra-nationalist deposed by force last December.

The struggle for Georgian Television - also site of the revolt last year that eventually toppled Gamsakhurdia - was a bitter reminder of the turmoil that has engulfed this Transcaucasian state since the collapse of Communist power.

Supporters of Gamsakhurdia, primarily based in the west of the republic, have mounted a series of armed operations in defiance of Shevardnadze's provisional government.

Elected by a landslide in May 1991 but soon denounced by political opponents as a dictator, Gamsakhurdia was overthrown after a bloody struggle lasting several weeks in Tbilisi.

Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, returned to Georgia in March and was made head of the State Council. He was due to meet Russian President Boris Yeltsin to discuss the conflict in South Ossetia, a tribal region of Georgia.

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