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Georgian troop rebellion 'over'

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Georgian government: 'There is a strong link to the Russian Special Services'

A mutiny at a military base near Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, is over, the Georgian interior minister says.

Vano Merabishvili said the commander of the Mukhrovani base where a tank battalion mutinied had been arrested and others were being questioned.

Tbilisi said earlier it was part of a Russia-linked coup attempt to kill President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russia's envoy to Nato described the charges as "mad". The trouble comes a day before Nato exercises in Georgia.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev has condemned Nato for planning military exercises in a country "where there was just a war".

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Georgia and Russia have poisonous relations, and fought a war over Georgia's breakaway territory of South Ossetia last August.

In a separate development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would not attend a planned meeting of the Nato-Russia Council later this month following the alliance's expulsion of two Russian diplomats last week.

They were expelled reportedly in retaliation for a spy scandal involving an Estonian official.

Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed regret at Mr Lavrov's decision.

Saakashvili's address

In a statement, the Georgian interior ministry said that the attempted mutiny at the Mukhrovani base, some 30km (20 miles) from Tbilisi, had failed and the situation had been brought under control.

The statement came after negotiations between government officials and troops at the base.

It's over - most of the people have surrendered... There was no violence
Shota Utiashvili
Interior Ministry spokesman

"It's over. Most of the people have surrendered, including the commander of the battalion. A few people have escaped," spokesman Shota Utiashvili told the AFP news agency.

"There was no violence," he said.

At the entrance to Mukhrovani, bus loads of soldiers and other official military vehicles were seen leaving, the BBC's Tom Esslemont reports from just outside the base.

Our correspondent says that Mr Saakashvili also left the base shortly after the alleged mutiny ended, though an interior ministry spokesman denied that the president had taken part in the negotiations to end the mutiny.

In a televised address later on Tuesday, Mr Saakashvili described the mutiny as a "serious threat", but added that it was an isolated incident.

"The plan was to stage a large-scale mutiny in Tbilisi and to take steps against the sovereignty of Georgia and the Georgian government's European and Euro-Atlantic integration."

Paul Reynolds
Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The best hope for an improvement in Nato-Russia ties lies in talks between Washington and Moscow about nuclear weapons. The two sides have set themselves a deadline of December to reach an agreement.

If they do agree that will be an up. But equally there will be downs in future as well.

The basic relationship has not been worked out. There is suspicion among Nato members about the authoritarian nature of the Russian government and its determination to exercise influence over its near neighbours.

And there is suspicion in Moscow that Nato would like Russia to return to the chaotic days of the 1990s, when Russia was passive and compliant.

Mr Saakashvili also demanded that Russia "refrain from provocations".

It is still not clear how many officers may have been involved in the events at Mukhrovani.

The mutiny erupted on Tuesday morning, when soldiers began disobeying orders, Georgian officials said.

The soldiers were aiming at "disrupting Nato exercises and overturning the authorities militarily", Georgian Defence Minister David Sikharulidze told Georgian television.

The rebellion began as the government announced it had disrupted a coup plot.

The interior ministry told the BBC that the plotters wanted to destabilise Georgia and assassinate President Saakashvili.

Mr Utiashvili said one of the suspected coup leaders - former special forces commander Georgy Gvaladze - was arrested. But the alleged co-plotter - former chief of special forces Koba Otanadze - was still at large.

The spokesman said the government had been aware of the plot for two months.

The rebellion appeared to be "co-ordinated with Russia", the interior ministry said.

'Distracting attention'

But Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow's ambassador at military alliance, said the mutiny in Georgia was the result of "crazy politics of President Saakashvili".

In a separate development, opposition protests are continuing in Tbilisi.

The demonstrators say they plan to block three main roads into the capital later on Tuesday.

Opposition parties say the alleged mutiny was a deliberate attempt by the government to distract attention from a new phase of anti-government protests.



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