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NATO Chief Says Road to NATO 'Wide Open' For Georgia


NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the road to joining the alliance is "wide open" for Georgia - despite Russian opposition.

He made the comment Tuesday in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on the second and last day of his visit. He said the alliance will continue to expand.

De Hoop Scheffer on Monday called on Russia to comply with a European-brokered peace plan for Georgia, and accused Moscow of using "indiscriminate force" during last month's incursion into Georgia. But he did not say whether the alliance will put the country on track to NATO membership at a summit in December.

De Hoop Scheffer and his delegation of 26 NATO ambassadors today visited the battle-scarred central Georgian city of Gori. The city of 50,000 has more than doubled in population, sheltering Georgians who fled South Ossetia last month following the Russian incursion.

NATO officials were in Tbilisi for the inaugural meeting of the NATO-Georgia Cooperation Commission.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Monday the NATO delegation's visit shows Georgia does not stand alone.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev last week pledged to pull all Russian forces out of Georgia - except for the disputed pro-Russian breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - by mid-October.

Russia strongly opposes NATO expansion toward its borders, and had urged NATO to cancel the visit, which was planned before Russian-Georgian military hostilities erupted August 7.

Meanwhile, Georgian authorities today handed over to Russia the bodies of two pilots of a Russian bomber shot down during the conflict.

Russia sent thousands of troops into the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia last month after Georgia tried to reclaim the region by force.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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