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Iran to Aid Georgia as It Battles Fuel Shortage

An explosion on a gas pipeline and heavy snow have caused the country to scramble to stay warm.

January 28, 2006|From Associated Press

TBILISI, Georgia — Suffering through its worst energy crisis in years, Georgia struck a deal with Iran for emergency natural gas supplies Friday.

Dawn-to-dusk lines for kerosene and firewood persisted here in the capital for a second day, as desperate Georgians lined up for fuel to heat their homes amid the former Soviet republic's heaviest snowfall in years.

"It's an energy blockade. That's what it is," said 58-year-old Bichiko Gveseladze, who waited six hours with at least 500 other people for government-subsidized kerosene. "Russia is doing it because they don't want Georgia to be fully independent."

Over the weekend, an explosion on a major gas pipeline that runs through the Russian border region of North Ossetia cut supplies. The misery worsened early Thursday when a windstorm downed power lines leading from the Inguri hydroelectric station to eastern regions, leaving about 3 million people without electricity.

Then, a Tbilisi power station unit malfunctioned, leaving most of the capital's 1.5 million residents -- more than a third of the country's population -- to scrounge for other heating options as daytime temperatures fell as low as 18 degrees.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has suggested that Russia was stalling repair of the gas pipeline to punish the country for recent pro-Western policies. Russian officials have rejected the allegations, and blamed the blasts on sabotage.

Saakashvili, a pro-Western leader who has built close ties with Washington, told his Cabinet that Iran had agreed to supply 71 million cubic feet of gas a day via Azerbaijani pipelines, beginning by Monday.

Until service is restored, residents are doing what they can to stay warm.

Standing in a slushy street, a shivering Mimosa Maisuradze, 49, held up her right hand to show a reporter the number 428 -- inked on at 8 a.m. when she lined up for kerosene.

"What else are we going to do?" she said.

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