MOSCOW Russia expressed concern on Wednesday over unrest in Abkhazia and reportedly sent a Kremlin aide to the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Georgia, after protesters chased its president from his headquarters.
Opposition demonstrators were still apparently controlling access to President Alexander Ankvab's administration building on Wednesday, after storming it on Tuesday.
Ankvab was with senior security officials at an undisclosed location in the lush Black Sea coastal region.
"I have not gone anywhere. I am in Abkhazia," a statement on the president's website quoted him as saying. He said he was discussing events with his Security Council and police and the military "are taking all measures to stabilise the situation."
Opponents and backers of Ankvab held rival rallies in the capital, Sukhumi, and the Interior Ministry said it was stepping up patrols, but there was no sign of a crackdown on the opposition.
On Tuesday, protesters broke windows and doors to take control of the presidential headquarters.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported on Wednesday that opposition supporters continued to control the administration building as well as the state television station, which Ankvab said had been seized by armed men.
Ankvab left the administration building on Tuesday following unsuccessful talks with opposition leaders after several thousand people gathered to vent their anger about alleged corruption and misrule.
Opposition leaders called on Ankvab to step down, and he accused them of seeking to take power by force.
Bloodshed or protracted unrest in Abkhazia could be an embarrassing headache for Russia, which recognised the region and another breakaway province of Georgia, South Ossetia, as independent states after fighting a five-day war against Georgia in 2008.
"The Russian side is following events closely and with concern ... and considers it important that socio-political processes develop exclusively along legal lines," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russian media said Vladislav Surkov, a longtime aide to President Vladimir Putin, held talks with Ankvab on Wednesday in a town outside Sukhumi and also met opposition leaders. The Kremlin could not immediately be reached for comment.
After the war with Georgia in August 2008, Russia also strengthened its control over Abkhazia, where Russian forces help guard the de facto border with Georgian government-controlled territory.
Abkhazia broke from Georgian rule in a 1992-1993 war after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But relations with Russia are a political point of contention in the region, with some Abkhazians calling for integration with Russia and others saying it should be more self-reliant.
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Steve Gutterman; editing by Andrew Roche)