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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 July, 2005, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
First Russian troops quit Georgia
Russian army lorry leaves base in Batumi
The Russian troops have three and a half years to leave
A convoy of Russian military vehicles has left the Black Sea port of Batumi, marking the start of the closure of Moscow's military bases in Georgia.

As a dozen or so vehicles trundled away, local Georgians saw them off with champagne and flowers, and wished them "bon voyage".

Moscow agreed with Georgia in May to close down Batumi and its other base at Akhalkalaki by the end of 2008.

There have been Russian garrisons in Georgia for more than two centuries.

However, tension has been high in recent years between the two countries over the flashpoint Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the war-torn Russian region of Chechnya.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg reports from Moscow that Saturday's convoy was a welcome sight for the Georgian authorities.

Friendly farewell

It is expected to cross the border into Russia on Sunday.

It had been due to leave the Batumi base on Friday but was delayed by red tape.

Russian officials claimed Georgia had failed to issue licences for the vehicles and re-entry visas for drivers escorting the column.

Georgian TV showed local people saying goodbye to the departing vehicles.

"We promised that when they left we would bid them farewell and we wish them a good trip," Ketevan Antidze told Imedi TV.

Another bystander, Giorgi Charkviani, said it was a friendly farewell.

"We welcome their decision to leave so we are extending the hand of friendship - they are our friends," he said.

Russian troops were deployed to Georgia in the late 18th Century at the request of King Herekle II who was seeking protection from Turkish and Persian incursions.

Country profile: Georgia
03 Jul 05 |  Country profiles

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