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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 12:07 GMT
Abkhazia rallies for independence
By Matthew Collin
BBC News, Abkhazia

Sergei Bagapsh
Sergei Bagapsh said Abkhazia would never be part of Georgia
Thousands of people have staged a rally for independence in Abkhazia, which has been struggling to break away from Georgia since the war in the 1990s.

The Abkhaz separatist president, Sergei Bagapsh, said the region would never be part of the same state as Georgia.

Shortly after the march, the lower house of Russia's parliament expressed support both for Abkhazia and Georgia's other breakaway region, South Ossetia.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have deteriorated in recent months.

Georgian national television reported that around 40,000 people had rallied for independence in Abkhazia on Wednesday.

'Hostile' vote

The votes by the lower house of the Russian parliament, which followed only a few hours afterwards, will further infuriate the Georgian government and seem likely to increase tensions with Russia.

Georgia accuses the Kremlin of supporting the breakaway regions to destabilise its pro-Western government and maintain its influence in this former Soviet region.

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One leading Georgian MP described the votes as "hostile".

Russian MPs voted unanimously for resolutions saying Moscow should take into consideration Abkhazia's appeal to be recognised as independent, and declaring that South Ossetia's recent referendum vote for independence had reached international standards.

The Russian parliament did not call for official recognition of the breakaway regions, but that will not ease the anger in Georgia about economic sanctions imposed by Moscow and the deportation of Georgian citizens.

The death at the weekend of a Georgian woman who was being held in a Russian detention centre while awaiting a decision on potential deportation has contributed to feelings in Georgia that Moscow is determined to punish the country for trying to escape the Kremlin's sphere of influence.




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