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New Explosions Rock Gori as Russian, Georgian Troops Face Off


A new round of explosions was heard near Gori, just after Russian leaders said they were pulling out of the Georgian city, which has become a focal point in the conflict over the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgian leaders said Russian forces had "changed their minds" about withdrawing, and instead sent in additional troops to Gori, and returned to the Georgian port of Poti. Emma Stickgold has this report for VOA from Moscow.

The explosions and smoke seen billowing near the Georgian city of Gori came as Russian and Georgian leaders painted very different pictures of the scene

The Georgian city of 50,000 lies just south of South Ossetia, the separatist province where much of the fighting has taken place.

Just prior to the explosions, journalists were asked to leave by a Russian soldier who fired shots into the air.

Amid Georgian reports of looting, violence and extra Russian troops being added to the city, Russian military officials said their troops were told not to enter Gori anymore.

Russian Major-General Vyacheslav Borisov, a deputy commander with the Russian airborne troops, said he himself gave that command.

Borisov said that Georgian police will start working to carry out their normal functions, and that reports of the city being destroyed are wrong. He said he had just been to the city and the buildings were in "normal condition," and that electricity and water were flowing.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has said Russian military forces have achieved their objective in Georgia, and Russian news agencies Thursday reported that he said Russia will support any decision the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia make regarding their future.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said some Russian forces were remaining in the area to help defuse a large arsenal of military equipment that was found to be unguarded. Lavrov also was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the world can forget about talk of Georgia's territorial integrity.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that the world's opinion of the situation has been in his country's favor.

Saakashvili said Russia was trying to portray Georgia as the aggressor, and organizer of genocide. Thursday, he said, the world is 100 percent on Georgia's side.

Russia and Georgia agreed to a cease-fire plan after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Tuesday with leaders in Moscow and Tblisi.

U.S. President George Bush has called Russia's response disproportionate, while U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia would have to contend with international "isolation" if it did not honor the truce.

Georgia and Russia are considering options for suing one another for war crimes through the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The recent violence was the worst to break out since South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in 1992.

Separatists in Abkhazia took control of most of the province from Georgia in 1993.