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Officials Say Russia May Try to Mediate Crisis in Georgia

Russia has indicated it might try to mediate the political crisis in the former Soviet republic of Georgia along with two of Georgia's neighbors, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The move comes after nearly two weeks of demonstrations calling on President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin says Moscow may try to mediate between the opposing factions in Georgia, telling reporters that Russia "cannot be indifferent" to what happens there.

It is not clear what form such a mediation effort would take, but Russian officials have said it would probably also involve Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Mr. Loshchinin spoke after meeting with a key regional leader from Georgia, Aslan Abashidze, who has held a series of talks with Russian officials.

Mr. Abashidze is the only leading Georgian opposition leader who supports Mr. Shevardnadze in resisting calls that he resign in the wake of disputed parliamentary elections held two weeks ago.

Mr. Abashidze has warned that the situation in Georgia could spin out of control, especially if other opposition groups take up arms against the government.

So far there's been no sign of that happening, amid calls that ongoing protests be peaceful.

On Saturday protesters held more rallies in several towns around Georgia, while workers in some hospitals and schools announced strikes to put further pressure on local government officials.

The aim is to continue the momentum built up after almost two weeks of protests in Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi.

Friday night, 20,000 people gathered near the parliament building and also marched close to the President Shevardnadze's office, which was closely guarded by police.

The Georgian leader, 75, remains defiant, refusing to resign but leaving open the possibility of new talks with his opponents.

However, key opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili has rejected that, saying the one meeting that was held last Sunday was a waste of time. The American-educated politician accuses Mr. Shevardnadze's supporters of rigging the results of a parliamentary election two weeks ago. He says the only solution is for the president to step down.

The political crisis is being watched closely by western countries because of the impact unrest in Georgia can have on the volatile Caucasus Mountain region as a whole.