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Georgian president says Russia threatens to split Georgia

The U.S.-allied president of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili said that Russia threatens to split Georgian nation thus defending the state of emergency.

President Mikhail Saakashvili made the statement late Monday as a visiting U.S. diplomat urged the Georgian government to lift the state of emergency, which has blocked independent news broadcasts, and "restore the momentum of democratic reform" to the former Soviet Caucasus nation.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew J. Bryza's tough message reflected Washington 's concern over the steps taken by Georgian authorities to crush anti-government protests. He planned to meet Tuesday with Saakashvili before leaving Georgia .

Saakashvili has accused Moscow of attempting to overthrow his government by staging opposition protests, and said the police crackdown on demonstrators was necessary to prevent the country from sliding into chaos. Russia angrily rejected the allegations, and the Georgian opposition denied doing the Kremlin's bidding.

"Despite taking concentrated efforts from all directions, they couldn't overthrow the government," Saakashvili said late Monday. "The unpleasant actions cost me several years of life, but we managed to restore order."

Saakashvili has sought to shed Russia 's influence, develop close ties with the West and join NATO - a policy that has put him on a collision course with the Kremlin.

Saakashvili has accused Moscow of hampering his efforts to take rebel provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back into fold.

Russia's peacekeepers have been deployed to both provinces since the early 1990s, when they broke away from Georgian government control in separatist wars. Georgian authorities said Russia has been backing separatists and demanded the peacekeepers' withdrawal.

Saakashvili said late Monday that Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Mikhail Saakashvili (interet-general.info)
Mikhail Saakashvili (interet-general.info)
had openly threatened to have Georgia split like Cyprus. The Mediterranean island is divided into a Greek Cypriot controlled south and a Turkish controlled north, which is not recognized internationally, since Turkey sent troops to the island in 1974 after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

"President Putin bluntly told me that Russia would turn Abkhazia into a new Cyprus," Saakashvili said. "I want to tell Russia and all others: you won't split Georgia ."

Russian officials have repeatedly denied claims of interference into Georgian affairs and accused Saakashvili of making anti-Russian statements to shore up his sliding popularity.

Saakashvili introduced a 15-day state of emergency Wednesday after riot troops used clubs and tear gas against opposition protesters in the capital, Tbilisi . Demonstrations were banned, as were all television news broadcasts except on state television.

The president's response to the opposition challenge drew sharp criticism from the West and warnings that it could harm his efforts to integrate this small Caucasus nation into the European Union and NATO.

In a bid to defuse the political crisis, the worst he has faced in nearly four years in power, Saakashvili last week called early presidential elections for Jan. 5.

Caught off-guard, the fragmented opposition turned its attention to putting forward a single candidate to run against the president, and on Monday announced it had chosen businessman Levan Gachechiladze, a member of parliament who has not been among the prominent opposition leaders.

The state of emergency and the ban on independent broadcasts have prevented the opposition from launching their campaign.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, Bryza said he was given the impression that the Georgian government was moving toward lifting the state of emergency "quite quickly." Bryza also met with opposition leaders.

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