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Azeri Gas Starts Flowing to Georgia; Repairs to Ruptured Pipeline Continue


Azerbaijan has started natural gas deliveries to Georgia - one day after a series of explosions in the Russian Caucasus region of North Ossetia knocked out the main supply line from Russia to Georgia amid a prolonged spell of sub-zero temperatures. Emergency officials warn it could take up to a week before full delivery is normalized.

Emergency officials worked through the night to fill a separate pipeline from Russia to Azerbaijan so that more than a million residents of Georgia could meet the start of the day with heat.

Separately, officials at Russia's largest energy concern, state-controlled Gazprom, have agreed to transmit an additional three million cubic meters daily to Azerbaijan in order to help keep Georgia supplied during the interim.

But the effort appears to have done little to warm up the bitter rhetoric coming from Georgia, which accuses Russia of deliberately cutting off the gas to punish Georgia for its pro-Western policies. Georgian parliamentary speaker, Nino Burjzanadze, leveled the charge, voiced earlier by President Mikhail Saakashvili, on Russian radio (Echo Moscow).

Burjzanadze tells Echo Moscow Georgia that she believes the trouble was no accident.

Georgian officials have not offered any proof to substantiate their claims against Russia, which Moscow rejects as nothing more than "hysteria."

In a written statement late Sunday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Moscow was doing all it could to minimize disruption to Georgian consumers and warned Georgia's government it was risking relations with Russia, if it continues with the charges.

Russian investigators continue to examine the blast site for clues as to the cause of Sunday's explosion, but say they suspect sabotage because of evidence of explosive devices found at the scene.

Hours after the blast, a third explosion knocked out a power line carrying electricity to Georgia. Turkey stepped up to meet that need, but President Saakashvili has warned Georgians about the likelihood of rolling black-outs over the next few days as emergency officials struggle to restore service.

The developments come as Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, continues a rare visit to Russia Monday expected to focus on expanding natural gas supplies. Turkmenistan is the second largest producer of natural gas in the former Soviet Union, after Russia.