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Georgia declares 'state of war' as Russian bombs fall PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 August 2008

AFP, TBLISI  - Georgia declared a "state of war" on Saturday as Russia bombed the country and their armies battled for control of the separatist region of South Ossetia.

International concerns mounted as Russia stepped up its military onslaught against Georgia's attempt to seize back control of South Ossetia, bombing the key Georgian port and oil staging post of Poti.

"I have signed a decree on a state of war. Georgia is under a state of total military aggression by the Russian navy, air force, large-scale ground operations," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said.

The Georgian parliament approved the emergency decree, which will last for 15 days and is equivalent to declaring martial law.

World leaders, fearing a return to the Caucusus wars of the 1990s, stepped up calls for an end to the conflict.

The United States and the European Union prepared a joint delegation to seek a ceasefire but Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said his country had launched a military operation "to force the Georgian side into peace".

US President George W. Bush cut into his engagements in Beijing, where he was attending the Olympic Games, to call for an end to Russian bombing.

"We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops," Bush told reporters.

"We call for an end to the Russian bombings and a return by the parties to the status quo of August 6," he said.

The European Union and NATO also called for a halt to hostilities.

The UN Security Council was to meet again Saturday to agree on a call for an immediate ceasefire after talks failed Friday.

Russia backs the separatist government and sent in tanks and troops on Friday in response to pro-Western Georgia's military campaign to take back the province which broke away in the early 1990s.

Georgian and South Ossetian forces made rival claims to control the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali but Russia said Saturday it had "liberated" the city after airlifting paratroopers into the city.

"Tactical battalions have completely liberated Tskhinvali from Georgian military forces," General Vladimir Boldyrev, head of Russia's ground forces, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

As clashes intensified, a senior military official said Georgia planned to pull its entire 2,000-strong military contingent from Iraq within days in a move to bolster forces back home.

"We are actually in the stage of preparing our departure," Colonel Bondo Maisuradze, chief of Georgia's military operations in Iraq, told AFP.

Georgia said a Russian air raid had "completely devastated" the Black Sea port of Poti in attacks that the country's UN ambassador likened to "a full-scale military invasion".

The Moscow-backed administration in South Ossetia said 1,600 people had been killed since Georgia launch its offensive on Tskhinvali, but Saakashvili dismissed the claims a "truly Soviet-style disinformation campaign".

Georgia's top security official Alexander Lomaia said 10 Russian aircraft had been shot down and 30 Russian tanks destroyed, adding that one of the pilots had been captured and was being treated in a military hospital.

He said 40 Georgian troops had been killed and that military and civilian losses were about 100 in all.

Russia said only that 15 of its soldiers had been killed and 150 wounded.

In addition to bombing Poti, Russian warplanes were said to have bombed the Georgian city of Gori, killing civilians, and to have started a new bombardment of villages in Abkhazia.

Within hours of the Russian bombing of the second separatist region, the Abkhazians announced they had begun a military operation against Georgian troops in their territory.

In the streets of Tskhinvali, home to an estimated 20,000 people, tanks were seen burning, and women and children ran for cover.

An AFP reporter in South Ossetia saw women, children and elderly people riding buses toward the Russian border, fleeing the fighting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said hospitals in Tskhinvali were overflowing with casualties.

South Ossetia broke from Georgia in the early 1990s. It has since been a constant source of friction between Georgia and Russia, which opposes Tbilisi's aspirations of joining NATO and has supported the separatists without recognising their independence.

South Ossetia has long sought unification with North Ossetia, which is inhabited by the same Ossetian ethnic group but ended up across the border in Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The head of Georgia's national security council on Saturday did not rule out appealing for international military assistance as the conflict in South Ossetia escalates.

"However, our troops are fighting Russian invaders in a brave and brave manner," Lomaia said, adding: "Obviously, the resources are not equal."

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