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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Truckers Protest Fruit Embargo

Itar-TassA trader loading up his truck with tangerines. A year-old ban on Georgian fruit has prohibited their entry into Russia.
Russian police tried -- and failed --this week to break up about 60 trucks with banned fruit that have formed an emotional and politically sensitive blockade on the Georgian border.

The trucks had been hauling tangerines from South Ossetia, in Georgia, to North Ossetia, in Russia. But a year-old Russian ban on Georgian fruit -- in addition to wine, water and vegetables -- prohibits their entry.

Now the trucks and their rotting cargo, thought to be about 1,000 tons in all, are parked on the border, allowing only those on foot and taxis to cross from one country to the other.

The standoff is now in its third week. It marks the first public act of defiance of the Russian embargo, which was imposed on the pretext that the Georgian goods posed a public health risk.

On Monday, the truckers got a lift from local women who lay down next to the trucks to prevent Russian customs agents from moving the trucks.

"As of now, all attempts to unblock the roadway ... are not being pursued," a police source told Interfax.

Through the Christmas and New Year's holidays, temperatures have hovered around zero degrees Celsius in the mountainous border region. The drivers have been burning the wooden tangerine crates for warmth, Lenta news agency reported. Many of them are short on food, drinking water and gasoline and are suffering from colds, Interfax reported.

Regional Prosecutor German Stadler said Tuesday that charges were being written up against the people involved.

North Ossetia head Taimuraz Mamsurov said Monday that "the harshest measures" would be taken not only against the drivers but also their bosses, "who are probably not on the roads but sitting in warm apartments."

The Interior Ministry has pledged its full support for local authorities. It is helping bring charges against the truckers for blocking the highway and, in separate incidents, illegally importing fruit late last year.

The fruit was delivered from Georgia to Russia from Nov. 27 to Dec. 17, Deputy Interior Minister Soslan Sikoyev told Interfax on Monday.

Tangerines are a traditional holiday treat in Russia, and the truckers were likely seeking to capitalize on the season's heightened demand.

Russia has often used import bans to gain political leverage, and bans on Georgian imports have been widely viewed as a means for Russia to bring its westward-leaning neighbor back to heel. Other countries that have felt Russia's wrath include Poland and Moldova.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has called the bans "unfounded and discriminatory."

Mamsurov said the standoff had nothing to do with politics and that he was "not at all interested in Georgia and its problems. I am interested in my country."