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Georgia, Moscow Trade Allegations on Military Uprising

Moscow and Tbilisi are trading accusations over responsibility for what is described as an uprising at a military unit in Georgia. The crisis erupted on the eve of controversial NATO military exercises in the Caucasus republic, and ongoing opposition demonstrations against Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Officials in Georgia say troops at a tank battalion at the Mukhrovani base about 30 kilometers from Tbilisi staged a rebellion aimed at overthrowing the government and also disrupting Wednesday's start of NATO military exercises in the republic.

Moscow has vehemently protested the NATO exercises as inappropriate, because of continuing tensions following the conflict last August between Georgia and Russia. The exercises were planned before hostilities erupted.

Georgian authorities have arrested two alleged uprising organizers. They include a former Special Forces commander, Georgy Gvaladze. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was shown on television personally negotiating with the rebels.

The country's Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told reporters at a Tbilisi new conference the plot was coordinated and paid for by Russia. VOA later asked Utiashvili for specific evidence about the allegation.

The Georgian spokesman says he cannot be 100 percent certain about Russia's involvement, but notes that an investigation of specific involvement of Russian special services is underway. In the meantime, Utiashvili says he cannot provide official confirmation of a Russian connection.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin says Tbilisi's accusation against Moscow demonstrates a "sick imagination and irresponsible behavior on the part of Georgian leadership."

Georgian opposition leaders are accusing President Mikheil Saakashvili for staging the alleged coup plot to divert attention from domestic problems. Georgia has been rocked in recent weeks by opposition demands for Mr. Saakashvili's resignation.

The president's opponents say he is authoritarian and is to blame for the war with Russia.

Opposition leader Georgy Khaindrava told VOA the army uprising was carried out in the finest tradition of Soviet Bolsheviks, who applauded themselves for solving problems they themselves staged.

The opposition leader says Saakashvili understands perfectly well that he no longer has full control of the capital, and that the parliament, presidential office, ministries and mayor's office are not working.

Meanwhile, Russia has pulled out of ministerial talks with NATO scheduled for later this month to protest the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from its mission at alliance headquarters in Brussels. The expulsion involved a Russia-NATO spy scandal last year.

A spokeswoman for NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says he regrets the Russian decision and hopes talks can be rescheduled to discuss many subjects of common interest.