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Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Sunday, 10 August 2008 11:43 UK

Fear, anger, confusion in Tbilisi

By Matthew Collin
BBC News, Tbilisi

Georgian girls in the town Gori examine a casualty list, 8 August 2008
As the casualty toll rises, most Georgians see Russia as the aggressor
Fear, anger and confusion were the prevailing emotions on the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, as the confrontation between Georgia and Russia escalated.

With Russian fighter jets in the Georgian skies and Russian tanks on Georgian soil, almost everyone here sees Moscow as the aggressor.

They believe that their former Soviet masters in the Kremlin are once again trying to brutally subjugate their smaller southern neighbour and prove that Russia remains the dominant power in the region.

Demonstrators gathered in one of Tbilisi's central squares on Saturday evening to express their fury. They lit hundreds of candles which spelled out the words: "Stop Russia!"

One elderly man said he supported the government's attempt to take back South Ossetia from the separatists - despite the fierce Russian military response.

"Georgia wants to get back its territory, and that's lawful," he said. "This is aggression from the Russian side. They bombed our land."

State of war

A few months ago, Georgian opposition leaders were calling President Mikhail Saakashvili a criminal and a murderer, and refused to recognise him as the country's legitimate leader.

Video grab of Tbilisi demonstration, 9 August 2008
This is hell, it's a disaster, but we have to fight to the end because Russia must be taught a lesson that it cannot act like this in the 21st Century
Ana, Tbilisi resident
Now they have temporarily set aside their differences and rallied behind Mr Saakashvili, amid what the government has called a "state of war".

"People like his strong statements and most are on his side now, even opposition supporters," said Ana, a child psychologist.

"This is hell, it's a disaster, but we have to fight to the end because Russia must be taught a lesson that it cannot act like this in the 21st Century - even if we all have to die."

Some were also angry that Georgia's Western allies - particularly the United States - hadn't intervened more strongly.

"Many people can't understand why the West failed to protect us," said Sandro, a student in Tbilisi.

"America was seen as an ally, and Georgian soldiers have been dying in Iraq in the interests of global security. But the West has shown that it doesn't care about Russia invading other countries."

"All they did was express 'concerns' while bombs were falling on us," added Shalva, his friend.

'Expats panicking'

Tourists and expatriates living in Tbilisi were also fearful - even more so after Russian fighter jets bombed a military airstrip on the outskirts of the capital overnight.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Tbilisi on 9 August 2008
Even his opponents have been swayed by the president's 'strong statements'

On Sunday, the Polish embassy evacuated busloads of Polish citizens as a precaution in case of further air strikes.

But other foreigners said they were determined to stay on.

"The expats are panicking, but I'm not going to leave," said Daniel, a British property developer working in Tbilisi, who travelled to the town of Gori, close to the fighting in South Ossetia, to assess the risk for himself.

"They're just striking military targets - it's a show of force. I'm not evacuating my staff."

But on the other side of the country, in the Black Sea port of Poti, which was bombed by Russian war planes on Saturday, people said they feared another attack.

"We don't know what to do," said Maia, a young Poti resident, a few hours after the missile strikes.

"If we stay in Poti, we might be attacked again, but if we go to another city, we might be attacked there too. All we can do is wait and hope."




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