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Russia aims to keep troops in Georgian port city

Georgians watch Russian troops during a demonstration in Poti on Saturday. Thousands of Georgians protested the presence of the troops on the outskirts of the strategic Black Sea port.

Associated Press

Georgians watch Russian troops during a demonstration in Poti on Saturday. Thousands of Georgians protested the presence of the troops on the outskirts of the strategic Black Sea port.

POTI, Georgia — Thousands of Georgians demanded that Russian troops leave the outskirts of this strategic Black Sea port on Saturday and took to the streets in protest, while a top Russian general said his country's forces would keep patrolling the area.

The comments by the deputy head of the general staff, Col.-Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, reported by Russian news agencies, showed that despite protests from the United States, France and Britain, Russia was confident enough to occupy whatever part of Georgia it deemed necessary.

"Russian military: You are not a liberating military, you are an occupying force!" one man shouted at the Poti protest. Banners read "Say No to War" and "Russia go home."

On Friday, Russia said it had pulled back forces from Georgia in accordance with a European Union-brokered cease-fire agreement.

"There are very specific requirements for Russian withdrawal. Putting up permanent facilities and checkpoints are inconsistent with the agreement. We are in contact with the various parties to obtain clarification," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said he had pressed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a phone conversation Saturday to remove Russian troops from an axis between the towns of Poti and Senaki.

Russia's pullback on Friday came two weeks to the day after thousands of Russian soldiers roared into the former Soviet republic following an assault by Georgian forces on the separatist region of South Ossetia. The fighting left hundreds dead and nearly 160,000 people homeless.

It also has deeply strained relations between Moscow and the West. Russia has frozen its military cooperation with NATO, Moscow's Cold War foe, underscoring a growing division in Europe.

Russia interprets the cease-fire as allowing it to keep a substantial military presence in Georgia because of earlier peacekeeping agreements that ended fighting in the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s.

But even though Poti is completely outside the buffer zone for Abkhazia, Nogovitsyn said Russian troops are not leaving and will patrol the city.

"Poti is not in the security zone, but that doesn't mean that we will sit behind the fence and watch as they drive around in Hummers," Nogovitsyn said, making an acid reference to four U.S. Humvees the Russians seized in Poti last week. The vehicles were used in previous joint U.S.-Georgian military exercises.

Russian forces also set up a checkpoint near Senaki, the home of a major military base in western Georgia that Georgian troops retook on Saturday. And in South Ossetia, Russian troops erected 18 peacekeeping posts in the "security zone" and planned to build another 18 peacekeeping posts around Abkhazia.

Russia aims to keep troops in Georgian port city 08/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:39pm]

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