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Georgians deported as row deepens

BBC | October 6 2006

Russia has deported a planeload of Georgians, amid a diplomatic row sparked by Georgia's recent arrest of four alleged Russian spies.

The Georgians - said to number at least 130 - were rounded up in police raids and accused of immigration offences, Georgian officials told Reuters.

Meanwhile, in Moscow police have reportedly asked schools to draw up lists of pupils with Georgian surnames.

The measures follow a Russian crackdown on Georgian-owned businesses.

'Bullying'

Moscow has also cut postal and transport links with the former Soviet republic in the Caucasus, and tightened visa regulations for Georgians.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused Moscow of "bullying".

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko accused Tbilisi of "anti-Russian" behaviour.

"Russia does not want to be provoked, Russia wants to be respected. Russia wants the anti-Russian campaign to stop," he said.

Estimates vary but it is believed that at least one million Georgians currently live in Russia. Many Georgian families depend on the remittances they send home.

Pupils listed

Georgian foreign ministry spokeswoman Nino Kajaia said the Georgian deportees were loaded on to a plane on Friday at a military airport outside Moscow where they then took off for Tbilisi.

Russian media report that authorities in Moscow have asked schools to provide lists of names of pupils with Georgian surnames as part of their search for illegal immigrants.

Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for the Moscow education department, said some, but not all schools, had received the request, which he criticised.

"If the law enforcement bodies carry out work searching for illegal migrants, it's their business and there is no way schools must be involved in this process," he told the Associated Press.

But a Russian interior ministry spokesman said there had been no such request to schools.

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