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Georgian, Russian Leaders Heat Up Rhetoric as Fighting Rages On


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out at Georgia Saturday, saying the country has effectively lost the right to rule the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Georgia's president, meanwhile, called Russia's actions "madness," and urged an immediate cease-fire. A joint European-U.S. mission to Georgia aims to broker a cease-fire in the conflict, as fighting continued for a second day Saturday. Emma Stickgold in Moscow has this report.

Russian Prime Minister Putin traveled to the Russian town of Vladikavkaz, near South Ossetia, as the conflict showed no signs of abating. Mr. Putin said Georgia's attack on South Ossetia Friday struck a deadly blow against its sovereignty.

Mr. Putin called the situation a humanitarian catastrophe, citing the casualties and bombardment of what he said were civilian targets. He said, since August 2nd, 34,000 refugees have crossed the border into Russia.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said he hoped the United States would help to convince Georgia to sign a legally binding agreement not to use force, while Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, said that, until Georgian troops resume their pre-offensive positions, a cease-fire would not occur.

Leaders from around the world have called on both sides to stand down, issuing statements deploring the fighting, and sending members of a delegation of high-level diplomats who hope to serve as a catalyst for a cease-fire.

Georgia launched an offensive Friday to re-take control of breakaway South Ossetia from separatists. Russia, which has issued passports to many of the province's residents, responded by sending troops and tanks.

South Ossetia's capital Tskinvali was in ruins as the region entered its second day of fighting between separatists and Georgian forces. Fighting also spread to Abkhazia, another breakaway region in Georgia. Georgian officials also say Russia staged airstrikes on Georgian military bases and bombed the Black Sea port city of Poti, which is home to key oil shipping facilities, and the Georgian town of Gori near South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called for an immediate cease-fire Saturday, saying the current violence is not in Russia or Georgia's interest.

Saakashvili asked President Medvedev to stop what he described as "this madness" and charged Russia with attempting to destroy Georgian freedom. He said that while the country should not show it is afraid - for Georgia, "This is all very hard."

The recent spate of violence is the worst to break out since the region won de facto independence in 1992. South Ossetians are eager to join fellow Ossetians in North Ossetia, which was included within Russian borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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