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EU banker kidnapped in Tbilisi

The abduction is an embarrassment for President Shevardnadze  

TBILISI, Georgia -- An EU banker working in Georgia has been abducted after police failed to beat off his heavily-armed kidnappers in a gun battle.

Briton Peter Shaw, 57, seized by seven armed men in a central district of the capital Tbilisi on Tuesday evening less than 24 hours before his contract for work in the country was to have ended.

The high-profile abduction is an embarrassment to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze who has been trying to rid the country of its lawless image and draw in much-needed Western investment.

Urging security forces to leave no stone unturned to secure Shaw's early release, the veteran Georgian leader told a government meeting: "This stain of kidnapping must be removed once and for all. Kidnapping has become a fashion here."

Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili told a news conference attended by Reuters that Shaw's car had first been stopped near his bank by three bogus policemen who tried to force him out of his car.

Three policemen who went to investigate then came under fire from another four armed men in military fatigues who turned up in another car.

"No one was hurt in the gunfire. But unfortunately the policemen could not counteract and the criminals managed to leave the place with Shaw as a hostage," Narchemashvili said.

He said Shaw, an executive director of the commercial Agro-Business Bank of Georgia, may have been kidnapped for a ransom though there could be other motives.

Police threw up roadblocks in and around the city.

Shaw had been part of Technical Assistance for the Community of Independent States (Tacis), a European Commission-sponsored development programme due to be privatised in 2003.

In 1999 he was appointed team leader of the project to establish Agro-Business Bank.

A European Commission spokeswoman told Reuters she understood that Shaw, from Maesteg, Wales, lived alone in Georgia and was divorced. His former wife still lived in Britain, with their children.

The most common place for kidnapping or transferring kidnapped people is the lawless Pankisi Gorge on the border with Russia's breakaway Chechnya, where thousands of Chechen refugees and fighters are settled.

Two Spanish businessmen were released last December after 372 days in captivity there. The pair were abducted while driving to Tbilisi airport and held for ransom by masked kidnappers.

A Lebanese businessman, kidnapped last year, was held for three months before being freed.

And Levan Kaladze, a brother of AC Milan player Kakha Kaladze, was kidnapped in broad daylight in Tbilisi last May while on his way home from a medical school. A ransom demand for $600,000 has been made by his captors.


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