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Georgian Parliament Demands Russian Pull-out
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Georgia's parliament Tuesday demanded that Russian peacekeeping forces withdraw from two separatist regions, a move certain to further heighten tension between Moscow and the former Soviet republic.

In a 144-0 vote, lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling on the government to start a process that would lead to the pull-out of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Opposition lawmakers in the 235-member legislature boycotted the resolution, saying it was too weak because it gave no definite timeframe for the pull-out.

President Mikhail Saakashvili has final say on the issue, and will likely try to use the vote as leverage in dealing with Russia on a host of disputes that have poisoned relations, including Russian bans on Georgian wines and mineral water and Georgian efforts to block Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs with Russian support since breaking away from central government control in wars in the early 1990s, and have resisted efforts by Saakashvili to rein them in.

"No one should have any illusions that these 'frozen conflicts' will forever remain in this condition, and that historically inalienable parts of Georgia can be split apart from it," parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze said.

Russian peacekeepers serve in Abkhazia under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States and in South Ossetia as part of a force that also includes Georgian and South Ossetian contingents.

The actions of the Russian peacekeepers are "extremely negative," the resolution reads, and "are one of the main barriers on the path to peaceful resolution of the conflicts" in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The resolution the second of its kind to be passed by parliament in 10 months also calls on the government to begin annulling agreements governing the peacekeeping forces in preparation for their "immediate withdrawal."

Russian officials have indicated they would not agree to withdraw peacekeepers from South Ossetia or Abkhazia unless the separatist leaders of the regions call on them to do so. Russia has also granted citizenship to most residents of the two regions and have stressed they would take no action that would endanger Russian citizens another argument against withdrawal.

Relations between Georgia and Russia have worsened significantly since the 2004 election of Saakashvili, who has sought to shed Russian influence on Georgia dominated by Moscow for most of the past two centuries and align his country with the United States and Europe.

(China Daily July 19, 2006)


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