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Putin describes Georgia's actions as "state terrorism"

dpa German Press Agency | October 1 2006

Tbilisi/Moscow- Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday described Georgia's arrest of four Russian military officers on charges of spying as "an act of state terrorism with hostage-taking and compared Georgia's leadership with Stalin. Russia withdrew almost all its diplomats from Georgia Saturday in protest over the arrests and announced it was suspending the withdrawal of its troops from Georgia, which were earlier expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

Georgia has ordered that the men be held for two months pending investigations.

Speaking on state television Sunday after a meeting of the security council, Putin said the arrests of the Russians was in the tradition of Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria, who ran the secret police overseeing the Stalinist purges of the 1930s and 40s.

He also accused Georgia of trying to provoke Russia with the backing of "foreign sponsors."

"These people think that under the roof of their foreign sponsors they can feel comfortable and secure," Putin said, referring to the United States.

Such a policy would not resolve the crisis, he added.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have deteriorated since Georgia began talks with the NATO defence alliance on closer ties.

Georgia's bid for NATO membership, still thought to be a long way off, is supported by US President George W Bush.

Georgia also accused Russia of backing separatists in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are quasi-Russian protectorates.

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