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Georgia denies military plan

October 22, 2006|From the Associated Press

TBILISI, GEORGIA — Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Saturday ruled out the use of force to establish control over two pro-Russian separatist regions.

He also said Tbilisi remained open to dialogue with Moscow to reduce tension that has escalated since the former Soviet republic temporarily detained four purported Russian spies last month.

"We certainly, absolutely, categorically are not starting any military confrontation," Saakashvili said.

His comments were a rebuttal to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's assertion Friday at a summit with European Union leaders that Georgia was planning to take back South Ossetia and Abkhazia by military means.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia's control during bloody wars in the early 1990s, receive strong Russian backing. Many residents in both regions hold Russian passports. Fears are strong that the escalating tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi could trigger an outbreak of violence that could draw in the entire volatile Caucasus.

Putin sidestepped European appeals for moderation on Georgia. "The situation is developing in the direction of possible bloodshed," he told reporters Friday. He accused Georgia of trying to take back the two regions "by military means."

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