Georgian Bridge Blast Hits Oil Transit

ReutersA Georgian security official standing guard Saturday by a destroyed east-west rail link, 50 kilometers west of Tbilisi.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Azerbaijan suspended oil exports through ports in western Georgia on Sunday after an explosion damaged a key rail bridge there.

Georgia accused Russian troops of blowing up a railway bridge west of the capital Tbilisi on Saturday, saying its main east-west train link had been severed. Russia denied any involvement.

Georgian Railways said Sunday that the railway would reopen within 10 days.

"The construction or repair works are expected to be completed within 10 days maximum," said Irma Stepnadze, a spokeswoman for Georgian Railways.

She said engineers and workers from Armenia and Azerbaijan were expected to arrive in Georgia on Sunday to help with reconstruction. They were also bringing specialist equipment.

In a statement earlier Sunday, Azerbaijan's state railway company cited the bridge explosion as the reason for the suspension.

A shipment of 72 oil tanks had been due to be sent to Armenia before the link was cut off, the Azeri company said.

The railway line runs from Tbilisi, through the Russian-occupied town of Gori, before splitting in three and running to the Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi and southwest to just short of the Turkish border.

Earlier this month Azerbaijan suspended crude shipments via the BP-operated Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which carries 1 million barrels per day, to Turkey after a fire damaged it.

BP last week closed the pipeline taking crude from Azerbaijan's Caspian port of Baku to the Georgian port of Supsa on the Black Sea, citing fighting between Georgian and Russian troops.

A pipeline running from the Caspian Sea to Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiisk is currently Azerbaijan's only oil export outlet.