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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Officials Discuss Visa Regime

TBILISI, Georgia - As Georgians crowded the Russian consulate Monday, two top officials traveled to Moscow to discuss differences over Russia's new requirement that Georgians obtain entry visas.

The requirement, which goes into effect Tuesday, has prompted strong protests in the Caucasus Mountains nation, many of whose citizens have relatives in Russia or travel there on business.

Russia says it introduced the visa regime to block the movement of rebels across the border with Georgia, the only foreign country that borders on separatist Chechnya.

Moscow claims that Chechen rebels go to Georgia to rest and stock up on supplies, and then return to fight Russian troops. Georgia has denied accusations that it is harboring Chechen rebels.

Long lines formed outside the Russian consulate office in the Georgian capital Tbilisi Monday, as people who were planning to travel to Russia Tuesday or afterward sought to visas.

Georgian Minister of State Giya Arsenishvili, the No. 2 official in the country, and Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava flew to Moscow on Monday to discuss the visa issue.

The Georgian officials were to meet with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. The sides were expected to sign an agreement spelling out the details of the visa regime, including a simplification of visa requirements for people living near the border, the Russian government said in a statement.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he hoped the visa requirement was temporary.

?Naturally, this measure ... arouses serious concern, resentment,? Shevardnadze told reporters on Monday. ?But Russian President Vladimir Putin has defined it as a temporary measure.?

Meeting with Shevardnadze in the Belarusian capital Minsk last week, Putin suggested that the visa requirement could be dropped once the war in Chechnya ended.

Russian and Georgian officials were also planning to discuss another pressing dispute, over Georgia's debts for Russian energy supplies. The debts are estimated at $180 million, with $25 million scheduled to be paid this year.

Russia cut off gas and electricity supplies to Tbilisi Saturday, apparently over the debt disputes, leaving the city of 1.2 million in darkness and without heat for several hours.