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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 January, 2005, 18:34 GMT
South Ossetia gripped by tension
By Natalia Antelava
BBC, Tbilisi

Hundreds of ethnic Georgians in the breakaway province of South Ossetia have blocked the main roads in the area in a further escalation of tensions.

They are demanding the release of a Georgian policeman abducted on Thursday by the South Ossetian forces.

South Ossetian authorities say the policeman is a criminal.

They have also said that unidentified Georgian gunmen have abducted 12 South Ossetians, among them a high-ranking official.

Boris Chochiyev, the South Ossetian state minister, told the BBC that his deputy had been captured and severely beaten.

Population: About 70,000
Capital: Tskhinvali
Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Orthodox Christianity
Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari

Georgian officials who are investigating the matter say they believe the abduction could be an act of revenge by the relatives of a Georgian policeman who was kidnapped by the South Ossetian forces last week.

He was abducted when South Ossetian gunmen attacked a Georgian police checkpoint.

The incident has fuelled new tensions in this volatile separatist province which wants independence from Georgia.

Ethnic Georgians who live in South Ossetia have now blocked the main roads and threatened to take more hostages unless the Georgian policeman is freed.

Russian threats alarm Georgia
14 Sep 04 |  Europe
Regions and territories: South Ossetia
22 Sep 04 |  Country profiles
Fighting rages in South Ossetia
16 Aug 04 |  Europe

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