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Pipeline Explosions in Southern Russia Called Sabotage

Russian investigators say that sabotage is the likely cause of two explosions at the main natural-gas supply pipeline that goes to neighboring Georgia and Armenia. The flow of gas has been interrupted in the middle of severe cold weather throughout the region.

The explosions occurred on the two branches of the pipeline that carries natural gas from Russia through the Caucasus Mountains to Georgia and then to Armenia.

Officials say they suspect sabotage because there is evidence of some kind of explosive devices at each site.

Alexander Panov is with the prosecutors office in North Ossetia, the region where the pipelines are located.

The material that caused the explosions has not been clearly identified, and the teams are continuing their work, he says.

Russian television showed footage of twisted, blackened pipes on a steep hillside. Teams of experts are now working to repair the damage, and officials say it might be three to four days before service is restored.

Hours after the blasts, a third explosion knocked out a power line carrying electricity to Georgia.

The incidents come in the midst of severe cold which has brought record low temperatures throughout the region.

There are already reports of gas and electricity shortages in Georgia and Armenia, which depend on Russia for much of their energy.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili appeared on television and accused Russia of being behind, what he called, these serious acts of sabotage.

He said some Russian politicians have threatened to leave Georgians without light and gas, amid disagreements over Russia's recent decision to double the price both countries must pay for gas.

His comments also reflect tensions between the countries since Georgia's Rose Revolution brought the Western-leaning Mr. Saakashvili to power two-years ago.

Georgian officials say they are trying to replace Russian supplies with gas from neighboring Azerbaijan and Iran, although it is unlikely this can be done quickly.

Armenia's main energy company says it is dipping into gas reserves and that power will be cut to non-essential businesses.

Similar power cuts took place in Russia last week after the Siberian cold front moved in and created soaring demand for gas and power.