The Communist Party chief of the Soviet republic of Georgia acknowledged Monday that some victims of a clash between protesters and soldiers died of gas poisoning.
In Moscow, troops on Sunday dragged away dozens of demonstrators protesting the violent crackdown on dissent in Georgia two weeks ago. The official Tass news agency said 47 demonstrators were arrested.Givi Gumbaridze, chief of the Georgian Communist Party, acknowledged widespread reports Monday that soldiers used a harmful gas to crush pro-independence demonstrations in Tbilisi.
"The fact that gases were used is the truth. Yes, some people died from poisoning," he told reporters taken to the southern republic by the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
His remark was the first by a top official acknowledging that some protesters were killed by gas used April 9 to help break up a crowd of thousands of demonstrators in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
At least 19 people were killed as soldiers using clubs, shovels and gas dispersed the demonstrators, and official accounts said one man was shot later. Georgian activists previously had charged that gas killed some protesters.
The Defense Ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda on Saturday identified a chemical used against the protesters as an incapacitating agent dubbed "cheremukha."
Its main ingredient is chloroacetophenone, the newspaper said. A Western military attache in Moscow said the substance was similar to but stronger than tear gas.
Gumbaridze said officials were trying to determine who ordered the use of the chemical. He did not say how many people died from its effects.
Members of a citizens' commission formed by the government to investigate the attack said a second gas was used as well. Officials have not identified it.