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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Russia in 'spy' row with Georgia

BBC: Russia has demanded the immediate release of four of its army officers arrested in Georgia on spying charges.

The Russian foreign ministry summoned the Georgian ambassador to Moscow to make the demand.

Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said the four were arrested along with 10 Georgians, for planning "a major provocation".

Georgian forces also surrounded the Russian army HQ in Tbilisi, demanding the handover of another officer.

Mr Merabishvili said the detained Russians and Georgian citizens had been collecting information on Tbilisi's relations with Nato, as well on its sea port and railway infrastructure, opposition parties and army.

"Today we neutralised a very serious and dangerous group," he said.

Russia's chief of army staff Yuri Baluyevsky, quoted by Russian news agencies, said the move was "sheer lawlessness".

Russia's foreign ministry described it as "an outrageous escapade proving the general anti-Russian policy of Georgia's leadership".

The arrests coincided with the first official visit by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to a disputed area on the border between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Russia said his visit was dangerous and would raise tensions between Russia and Georgia.
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