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Georgia Blames Russia for Gas Pipeline Explosions
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Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili yesterday blamed Russia for being behind the two gas pipeline explosions in the southern Russian region of North Ossetia, which has triggered an energy crisis in his country.


At 3:00 AM (0000GMT) on Sunday, the natural gas pipelines in North Ossetia exploded, cutting off gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia while the two countries are suffering a cold snap.


Later in the day, another blast hit a high-power electricity transmission tower west of North Ossetia, causing interruption to electricity supplies to Georgia.


Russian officials accused the anti-Moscow insurgents of the attacks. And Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel said a criminal case of sabotage has been launched over the blasts, which were caused by two explosive devices.


However, Saakashvili remained unmoved by Russia's explanation and said he believed Russia had deliberately cut off Georgia's gas supply in a bid to pressure it into giving up ownership of its domestic gas pipeline network to Moscow.


"The explanation we have received from the Russian side is absolutely inadequate and contradictory. Georgia has been subjected to serious sabotage from the side of the Russian Federation," reports quoted Saakashvili as saying.


"We have long heard threats from Russian politicians that we could be left without light and gas, and now this has happened, when Georgia is experiencing its coldest winter," he was quoted as saying.


Georgia has suffered serious energy shortages for years. It has been unusually cold this winter, with temperatures plunging to minus 5°C in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday.


Tbilisi is now using gas left over in the pipelines and if no alternative solution is found, the city will run out of gas, said Tbilisi's gas distribution company Tbilgaz.


Meanwhile, many Armenians also shivered in the cold snap after the gas cutoff, since their country receives all its gas via the same pipeline as Georgia. And Armenia, like Georgia, does not produce significant amounts of gas domestically, and they both rely on Russia for the gas imports.


The gas shortfall has prompted Georgia to urgently seek alternative sources of energy. President Saakashvili and his Azerbaijiani counterpart Ilham Aliyev discussed the possibility of providing Azerbaijani gas to Georgia during a telephone conversation yesterday, the Georgian presidential press service said.


(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2006)


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