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Georgia reports attacks as thousands rally

Georgia said on Tuesday that Russian attacks on the country continued despite Russia’s pledge to halt its military offensive as 100 000 people gathered in central Tbilisi in a mass outpouring of patriotism.

Having already lost South Ossetia, Georgia withdrew from the last sliver of Abkhazia controlled by government forces, the Kodori Gorge, and said bombings and troop movements persisted elsewhere.

”We have left Kodori. There was an evacuation,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili said, adding that he could provide no further details.

The secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council said that Russian troops and heavy artillery were also on the move near Abkhazia, heading towards the Georgian region of Mestia.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry claimed that Russian bombers had also attacked three villages near South Ossetia, with an ambulance allegedly destroyed in one of them.

None of the claims could be confirmed independently.

In Tbilisi, about 100 000 people gathered on the main avenue of the city in front of parliament to hear Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, face etched with emotion, deliver a rousing speech insisting ”tiny” Georgia would survive.

”Our struggle with Russia is a struggle between David and Goliath. And David will win! We will win!” he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev earlier on Tuesday said he had ordered a halt to Russia’s onslaught on Georgia, saying its neighbour had been punished but could be hit again.

A claim Russia had earlier targeted the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in Georgia, a United States-backed route for oil from the Caspian Sea to Western markets, was denied in Moscow.

Before the ceasefire call, the Georgian city of Gori near South Ossetia came under bombardment, with a Georgian journalist and his driver killed when a shell hit their car in the central square, a Agence France-Presse reporter witnessed.

A cameraman for Dutch television channel RTL was also killed and a correspondent for the channel injured, RTL said on its website.

Later, large numbers of Georgian police armed with automatic weapons and grenades moved into Gori and appeared to be getting ready to patrol the city, the reporter said.

Georgia’s minister of defence, escorted by special forces, also paid a visit to the hospital there, he said.

At his speech in central Tbilisi, Saakashvili announced that Georgia would quit the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Moscow-dominated regional grouping of ex-Soviet countries, and urged Ukraine to follow suit.

”We have taken a decision: Georgia is quitting the CIS,” he told a crowd of about 70 000 here. ”We urge Ukraine and other countries to follow our decision.”

He added: ”Soviet Union, goodbye forever!”

Arriving at the rally, Maia Metreveli (46), who said she was formerly a diplomat, said that she had come ”to be with my people”.

”We would rather die than be under the Russian regime,” she said. ”I don’t know what is going to happen. No one can predict what the Russians will do but we know they are capable of anything.”

Fighting between Russia and Georgia broke out last week after the Georgian army launched an offensive to bring South Ossetia, which broke away in the early 1990s, back under government control. — Sapa-AFP

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Michael Mainville
AFP Moscow bureau chief.

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