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GEORGIA GIVES LEADER NEW POWERS

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Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze was given sweeping new powers by Parliament on Friday, as separatist forces in the Black Sea province of Abkhazia launched a ferocious attack on the regional center Sukhumi.

Lawmakers voted unanimously to grant Shevardnadze additional powers after he told them Sukhumi was coming under "intensive" fire, with 200 shells exploding in the town since shelling began early Friday.The Georgian Defense Ministry said Abkhazian rebels bombarded residential quarters of Sukhumi with multiple-launch Grad missiles and howitzers in the heaviest single night of shelling since the 10-month war began.

Ministry spokesmen said 30 buildings were destroyed, including houses, offices and schools. There were casualties, though the exact number was not yet known.

Former Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze had asked deputies for powers to appoint and dismiss officials, fight crime and corruption and push through long-delayed economic reforms without prior approval by Parliament.

Most lawmakers supported his request, saying Georgia needed a strong leader to end the war in Abkhazia and deal with the economic chaos and rising crime afflicting the former Soviet republic.

But Parliament ruled the new prerogatives would be given only temporarily, until Georgia adopted a new constitution.

Shevardnadze told Parliament he was flying out to Sukhumi to analyze the situation, and former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani announced he would go to the Abkhazian front to join up as a rank-and-file soldier, to thunderous applause.

Muslim separatists have been fighting Christian Georgian government troops in the breakaway Black Sea coastal region of Abkhazia since last August, when Tbilisi sent in forces to suppress a local independence movement there.