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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Charges Fly as Georgia, Russia Mourn

ReutersRussian military vehicles parked Wednesday in a square in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Georgia says Russian troops have entered the town Gori.
TBILISI-SUKHUMI HIGHWAY, Georgia -- Georgia and Russia angrily accused each other of breaching a truce as they mourned for their dead Wednesday.

Georgia said Russia had sent dozens of tanks into the town of Gori, inside Georgia proper near the border with South Ossetia.

A convoy of journalists and diplomats heading to Gori from Tbilisi was stopped at a checkpoint manned by Russian officers two kilometers east of Gori's city limits on the Tbilisi-Sukhumi Highway at about 8 p.m. Moscow time.

A Moscow Times reporter saw about 50 trucks with Russian soldiers moving toward Gori from the east, the direction of Tbilisi. An armored personnel carrier led the Russian military convoy.

A senior adviser to Saakashvili, Gotcha Javakhishvili, who accompanied the convoy, said the Russian military was using Gori as a staging ground for looting raids on villages in Georgia proper.

"This is a blatant and very serious breach of the treaty agreed between Moscow and Tbilisi," he said.

Several Russian armored personnel carriers were seen maneuvering outside Gori, but no tanks could be seen at sunset.

Also in the convoy were French philosopher Bernard Levi, European Parliament lawmaker Marie Isler Beguin of France, Estonian Ambassador Tomas Luk and Georgian Security Council chief Alexander Lomaya.

A Russian officer at the checkpoint refused to identify himself, but he and his peers looked relaxed.

Later, he allowed a car carrying the politicians to travel on to Gori. Reporters were waiting late Wednesday night for word of what they had seen.

In Moscow, the Defense Ministry denied sending tanks to Gori or using troops to support armed units of South Ossetians there.

The ministry said Russian forces had shot down two Georgian drones over South Ossetia that flew there in violation of the cease-fire agreement Wednesday.

Wednesday was declared a day of national mourning in both countries after six days of fighting that followed Georgia's attempt to reclaim its separatist province of South Ossetia.

Russian and South Ossetian officials have said 1,600 civilians died in the fighting there, which started Friday and continued Tuesday, when President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to military actions by Russian troops who had moved into Georgia.

Medvedev, in his decree on national mourning, described the events in South Ossetia as a "humanitarian catastrophe" and the actions of the Georgian military there "genocide."

The deputy head of the armed forces' General Staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, told reporters that the military had lost 74 men, with another 171 wounded and 19 missing.

Georgia's Health Ministry said 175 people were killed, but this figure did not include casualties among Georgians living in South Ossetia.

Medvedev ordered national flags lowered to half-mast and national television channels to refrain from broadcasting entertainment shows Wednesday.

In Tbilisi, black bands were attached to national flags hanging on the official buildings.

Late Tuesday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accepted a six-point peace plan agreed upon by Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who stepped in to mediate the conflict. France holds the rotating presidency in the European Union.

Saakashvili demanded that the peace plan be modified to exclude a provision to begin discussions on the future status of South Ossetia and another separatist Georgian republic, Abkhazia.

Moscow accepted the changes in the text, with the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying, "In essence, it doesn't change anything."

The plan effectively restores the status quo ante.

Emerging from talks with Saakashvili in the Georgian president's residence early Wednesday, Sarkozy told reporters, "I found interlocutors in Moscow and Tbilisi who are prepared to make a peace effort."

Peter Semneby, the Caucasus envoy for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said the document agreed upon by Moscow and Tbilisi "will eventually lead to a signed contract which in turn could yield a United Nations Security Council resolution."

After the talks with Sarkozy, Saakashvili said the Russian military had committed atrocities in South Ossetia and Georgia proper. Speaking in stumbling French to reporters, he accused Moscow of "carpet bombings" in South Ossetia.

"The situation is extreme and worse than in 1992 in Abkhazia," he said, referring to a war between Tbilisi and Abkhaz separatists who were backed by Russia. "They are not just destroying houses, but killing people on the ground."

Leaders of the Baltic states, Ukraine and Poland descended on Tbilisi late Tuesday and spoke before a cheerful crowd gathered on Rustaveli Avenue.

"You Georgians stay united, and only united you will win," Latvian President Vladis Zatlers told the crowd, which chanted "Sakartvelo!" ("Georgia!").

"Me Kartveli var! [I am a Georgian!]" Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves shouted from the podium.

Sarkozy did not go out to address the gathering, apparently in order not to be associated with leaders who have offered enormous support to Georgia in its conflict with Russia.

Later Wednesday, 27 EU foreign ministers who gathered in Brussels agreed, after terse debates, to send monitors to supervise the cease-fire between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia. "The EU must be ready to engage, including on the ground, to support all efforts, including those of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for a lasting and peaceful settlement of the conflict in Georgia," the joint statement said. (Story, Page 3.)

France's foreign minister, who accompanied Sarkozy on a lightning visit to Moscow on Tuesday, told reporters Wednesday that he was convinced that Moscow would accept a European presence in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said they would not negotiate with Tbilisi.

"Only a judge of an international tribunal should talk to them," Kokoity said, Interfax reported.

Staff Writer Nikolaus von Twickel reported from Gori and Tbilisi; Staff Writer Nabi Abdullaev reported from Moscow.