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Moscow Ridicules Georgia's Spy Charges Against Russian Officers

Russia has reacted angrily to Georgia's detention of five Russian officers on suspicion of spying.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov referred to the spying accusations as absurd and demanded Georgia release the five officers immediately.

Georgian officials say the Russian officers were detained Wednesday in the capital, Tblisi, and the Black Sea port of Batumi. Authorities also arrested 12 Georgian citizens suspected of belonging to the purported spy ring.

Georgia's Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili has accused the Russians of spying and committing acts of sabotage in Georgia for several years.

Georgian security forces continued to surround the Russian military headquarters in Tblisi Thursday, demanding that Russia hand over more alleged spies believed to be hiding inside.

In a retaliatory move, Russia has stopped issuing visas to Georgians at the Russian embassy in Tblisi.

Georgia says the Russian officers are suspected of collecting information about Georgia's defense capability, its cooperation with NATO, and Georgia's energy systems and political parties.

Georgian authorities have long accused Russia of backing separatist forces in two breakaway areas of the country (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Russia deployed peacekeepers to the areas after they declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990's.

Georgian officials insist they will bring both areas back under central government control.

Russia still has military bases in Georgia, but has pledged to withdraw its troops by 2008.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.