Rallies in protest against raging crime were sweeping Georgia's Akhmet district Friday. The Pankisi gorge, currently home to over 7 thousand Chechen refugees and ethnic Chechens permanently residing in the gorge and better known there as Kistins, is located in the district. The locals have joined the demand by Union of Georgia's Afghan War Veterans to free hostages who are known to be kept in the gorge and establish lawenforcement control over the area. Protesters are seeking the release of, among others, Georgian monk Basil Machitodze, who was kidnapped about two months ago, and Georgian resident Aziz Khalilov kidnapped nearly four months ago. The ransoms kidnappers want for them are $1 million and $500 thousand respectively. The Akhmet district administration issued an ultimatum to Georgia's federal government. In televised remarks the local authorities undertook to jointly resign should federal government fail, within a week, to take adequate measures for coping with the criminal situation in the Pankisi gorge. Georgian state security minister Valery Khaburzania, who visited the district on Thursday, said the Pankisi developments were more complicated than he had expected. He promised to spare no effort to have the hostages released in the near future. He reported on a few suspects who had already been detained, a thorough investigation underway, and said there was every hope the hostages will be freed soon.
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