Russian tanks remain as Bush, Medvedev trade barbs over Georgia (Lead)

August 16th, 2008 - 4:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Tbilisi, Aug 16 (DPA) Russian armoured forces were showing little inclination to quit Georgia Saturday, in the wake of an exchange of barbs between the Presidents of Russia and the US over the South Ossetia war. Russian marines, tank and helicopter forces were occupying the Georgian port city Poti, and 100 vehicle-armoured column had reportedly moved into the city Senaki, 30 km inland.

Russian infantry in Poti were seen destroying Georgian warships, navigation equipment, and shore installations. Light Georgian motorboats and other modern Georgian naval equipment were seen being loaded onto Russian warships.

Russian troops had occupied Poti city but were conducting patrols in the town. The marines held full control of the port and were systematically demolishing the Georgian navy’s main naval base, a Poti resident told DPA by phone.

Three Georgian navy coastguard cutters were lying on the bottom of Poti harbour, only their masts and superstructures visible above the water.

Russia’s 58th Army was still occupying the northern Georgian city of Gori Saturday, three days so far after an agreement with Georgian authorities to hand the town over from Russian control.

Russian officials have claimed they cannot do so at the moment as Gori would be taken over by marauders and robbers.

Georgian officials, media, and even Internet sites have given evidence of Russian and Ossetian troops looting Gori, loading furniture, home appliances and even construction materials on lorries for transport north. The Kremlin has called the reports Georgian propaganda.

Russian army checkpoints at all roads leading into Gori, the key road nexus in Georgia, were blocking civilian traffic in all directions, eyewitnesses said.

Russian control of Gori was forcing travellers moving between Georgia’s capital Tbilisi and the Black Sea coast to detour as much as 350 km, a motorist recently having driven from Batumi to Tbilisi said.

Portions of the Georgian capital Tbilisi were without power for some four hours Saturday morning, for unknown reasons.

The issue of Georgia and Russia’s alleged unwillingness to pull its troops out led to a recent exchange of bards between the US and Russia.

US President George W. Bush Friday while on vacation in Crawford, Texas accused Russia of “bullying” its neighbour.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaking after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Friday, defended Russia’s actions in Georgia.

“If our peacekeeping troops and our citizens are attacked, we will respond in the future in the same way that we have responded. Let there be no doubt about this,” the Russian president said.

Merkel struck a middle line, saying “Both sides are probably to blame,” she said.

The German chancellor called for Russian troops to withdraw from central Georgia to the sites set out in a six-point European Union plan put forward by President Nicolas Sarkozy under France’s EU presidency.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Georgia had signed the ceasefire agreement Friday, and said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s signature obliged Russia to remove its troops from Georgia immediately.

“All Russian troops and any paramilitary Ossetian or other troops with them must leave Georgia and they must leave Georgia now,” Rice said.

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