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Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Tuesday, 7 August 2007 17:05 UK

Georgia condemns Russian 'raid'

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili examines the site of an alleged rocket explosion in Tsitelubani (7 August 2007)
President Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to spread panic

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused Russia of carrying out an air raid on Georgian territory, saying Moscow was trying to provoke panic.

Mr Saakashvili was speaking in a village where a missile from a Russian aircraft is said to have hit the ground close to a house on Monday.

Russia denies any part in the incident, saying its jets were not in the area.

Georgia says the missile, which did not explode, was from a Russian fighter plane that violated its airspace.

"All this provocation is aimed at stirring up panic to weaken the stability of Georgia and to change the country's policies," Mr Saakashvili said.

"We are waiting for an official explanation from Russia."

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years.

Moscow is angry about Georgia's plans to join Nato, while Tbilisi accuses Russia of trying to destabilise Georgia.

Relations worsened sharply last year when Georgia expelled four Russian army officers it accused of spying.

'Powerful missile'

Georgian officials say the missile landed outside the village of Tsitelubani, some 60km (37 miles) north-west of the capital Tbilisi, but did not explode.

They say two Russian "Su-type" jets launched the missile at 1930 (1530 GMT) on Monday.

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Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Ustiashvili told the BBC the planes had flown some 70km (43 miles) over Georgia, firing the "modern and powerful" rocket, which weighed about a ton.

Mr Ustiashvili said the jets flew from a Russian base in the North Caucasus before firing the missile, which landed just metres from a house.

Georgian officials said they had gathered fragments of missile fins and other debris near a small crater where the rocket landed.

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told the BBC the missile firing was an "act of aggression".

He said foreign diplomats in Georgia were being asked for a "stronger and clear-cut response" to the incident from the international community.

South Ossetia theory

Earlier on Tuesday, Georgia's foreign ministry handed a note of protest to the Russian ambassador in Tbilisi, although Moscow continued to deny all accusations.

I fail to see why a Russian plane would bomb territory close to South Ossetia
Alexander Golts
Russian defence analyst
"Russia's air force neither on Monday nor Tuesday flew flights over Georgia," said Col Alexander Drobyshevsky, an aide to the commander of Russia's air force.

"Russia has not violated the borders of sovereign Georgia."

Tsitelubani is not far from Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, which receives political support from Moscow, says the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow.

South Ossetia's leader Eduard Kokoiti said Georgian planes fired the missile to discredit Russia. "This is a well-planned provocation," said Mr Kokoiti, who holds Russian citizenship.

But a Russian defence analyst, Alexander Golts, said that without objective, hard information on the incident, it was impossible to lay the blame on either Russian or Georgian aircraft.

"While no one can say for sure whether it was a fuel tank or a rocket or a bomb which fell, I fail to see why a Russian plane would bomb territory close to South Ossetia," he told the BBC News website.

Strained relations

The conflicting accounts of the incident reflect ongoing tensions between Georgia and Russia, our correspondent says.

The deportation last year of four Russian army officers amid accusations of spying triggered a furious diplomatic row, with Moscow imposing economic sanctions against its neighbour and deporting a number of Georgians.

Georgian officials have frequently claimed that Russian military aircraft have violated its airspace - accusations always denied by Russia.

The worst problems have usually been related to regional conflicts - the frozen conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Many Georgians accuse Russia of imperialism, while Russia criticises Georgia for nationalism and pursuing an anti-Russian foreign policy.



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Pictures from near Tsitelubani



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