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Eyewitness: Mood shifts in Gori

The BBC's Richard Galpin reports from the Georgian city of Gori, close to the border with South Ossetia.

After a warning from the Georgian interior ministry that Gori is not safe, we are leaving. And we are not alone.

Georgian soldiers look from a truck as they head to the town of Gori, just outside the breakaway province of South Ossetia
The atmosphere felt a little more relaxed in Gori - for a while
The main road to the capital, Tbilisi, is packed with cars, evacuating Gori because of fears that Russian troops are about to march on the city.

Most of the vehicles going back towards Gori are ambulances and container lorries - which may contain military equipment and ammunition.

The sense of panic that struck Gori contrasted with the more relaxed air in evidence earlier.

After two days of Russian air raids, the bombing had abated.

Groups of soldiers with their weapons still slung over their shoulders, but now dressed in civilian clothing, had been wandering the streets of Gori and along the road heading back to Tbilisi - a sense of relief on their faces.

The frenetic, almost wild, activity of the past 72 hours, as thousands of troops poured into Gori before being deployed into South Ossetia had gone.

So too the incessant wailing of ambulance sirens as the dead and injured from the fighting and bombing were ferried to hospital.

But it only felt like a temporary reprieve - no-one knew what would happen next.

New atmosphere

But, just a few kilometres north from Gori towards South Ossetia, the atmosphere was different.

The road was lined with troops, tanks and other military equipment withdrawn from the battle zone in South Ossetia overnight.

ARMED FORCES COMPARED
GEORGIA
Total personnel: 26,900
Main battle tanks (T-72): 82
Armoured personnel carriers: 139
Combat aircraft (Su-25): Seven
Heavy artillery pieces (including Grad rocket launchers): 95
RUSSIA
Total personnel: 641,000
Main battle tanks (various): 6,717
Armoured personnel carriers: 6,388
Combat aircraft (various): 1,206
Heavy artillery pieces (various): 7,550
Source: Jane's Sentinel Country Risk Assessments

We tried talking to one group of soldiers resting by the side of the road. But their commander bristled at the arrival of a group of foreign journalists, swearing at us and refusing to let us film.

It was perhaps an indication that morale was low after what looked like a defeat for the Georgian army, which had failed to seize control of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

The battle was ferocious, but brief; the tiny Georgian army was no match for the might of the Russian military, which now has full control of the city.

Unlike on Saturday, when we were prevented from reaching South Ossetia by Georgian troops, on Sunday we were able to continue along the road right up to the main crossing point.

It was manned by Russian soldiers who are officially peacekeepers.

Not surprisingly, they were much more relaxed and talkative, allowing us to film what we wanted.

They happily told us they had watched the columns of Georgian military units withdrawing from South Ossetia, saying 90% of the tanks and other heavy armour had returned.

Border fighting

But at the border, it soon became apparent the Georgian withdrawal had not brought an end to the fighting.

It seemed there were still some Georgian units within South Ossetia fighting the Russians.

We witnessed an artillery barrage, with the shells landing about 1km (0.6 mile) from the checkpoint.

And just a few hundred metres beyond the Russian checkpoint, the road leading into Tskhinvali remained extremely dangerous.

There had been heavy exchanges of gunfire, mortars were being used and overhead Russian jets had been seeking out targets.

As we drove back through the Georgian villages towards Gori, we came across people still fleeing the area.

The Georgian withdrawal had made little difference to the daily trauma they had been experiencing since the war began.

One man driving out on his tractor was angry his government had decided to quit the fight for South Ossetia, and appealed to the international community to protect them.

But that seemed a forlorn hope.

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