Georgians Show Defiance As Russians Remain Russia shows little sign of ending its occupation of Georgia, but some Georgian citizens have found new ways to show their opposition. Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze says the more Moscow squeezes the current president, the more his authority will grow.
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Georgians Show Defiance As Russians Remain

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Georgians Show Defiance As Russians Remain

Georgians Show Defiance As Russians Remain

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Russia did sign a cease-fire agreement last week, which calls for it to withdraw its troops from Georgian territory, but Russia shows little sign of ending that occupation. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

IVAN WATSON: Russia engaged in a very public show of force yesterday in Poti, Georgia's port on the Black Sea. Russian troops entered Poti and detained at least 21 Georgian soldiers there. The Georgians were taken away blindfolded on top of Russian armored personnel carriers.

Meanwhile, only 20 miles west of the Georgian capital, Russian soldiers continued to man checkpoints and search passing cars.

Unidentified Man #1: (Russian spoken)

WATSON: The Russians allowed humanitarian convoys delivering aid as well as a stream of Russian tanks and armored vehicles to drive in and out of the Russian-occupied town of Gori.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

WATSON: But journalists and many Georgian citizens were not allowed to enter. Last week, after just a few days of fighting, the Russians easily overwhelmed Georgia's small military. Some Georgians have since found new ways to show their defiance.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: George Kumalidze(ph) was one of about 20 members of a labor union who marched towards a Russian army checkpoint carrying Georgian flags and chanting the name of the Georgian president. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: They were actually chanting "Sakartvelo" - the Georgian name for Georgia.]

Mr. GEORGE KUMALIDZE: Today we are protesting what happens in our country because we are the victim of Russian aggression. They stepped in our soil and so they started occupation of our lands.

WATSON: At the checkpoint, the Russian officer told the protesters he had orders not to let them pass.

Unidentified Man #3: (Russian spoken)

WATSON: This Georgian protester said, tell your commander this is our land and this is our road. A heated argument ensued.

(Soundbite of people arguing)

Mr. PETER SEMNEBY (European Union Envoy): It is a tense situation.

WATSON: Peter Semneby is the European Union's envoy to the Caucasus.

Mr. SEMNEBY: The withdrawal has not yet started and in that situation everybody has to be aware of the risk that any even minor incident may have. It may have consequences and it may unleash a chain of events that will be difficult to control.

WATSON: As Russian patrols push deeper into Georgian territory, the Georgian security forces have for the most part withdrawn peacefully to avoid further provoking their giant neighbor.

In western Georgia, Lieutenant Ramazi Apkadzei(ph) stood in civilian clothes outside his army barracks. It is currently occupied and being destroyed by Russian troops. Apkadzei says he has orders not to fight the Russians unless they start hurting civilians.

Lieutenant RAMAZI APKADZEI (Georgian Army): If they will shoot civilian, I will fight, I will kill them.

WATSON: Among the voices denouncing Moscow's occupation is a Georgian who once had a prominent seat in the Kremlin. In the 1980s, Edward Shevardnadze served as the foreign minister for the Soviet Union.

Mr. EDWARD SHEVARDNADZE (Former Soviet Foreign Minister): (Through translator) For 200 years we were a Russian colony. When one gets accustomed to controlling another country, it can be difficult to see that country become independent. Eventually some people reappear who want to recreate the old order.

WATSON: Several years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Shevardnadze became president of an independent Georgia. But in 2003, he was overthrown by opposition protests led by Georgia's current president, Mikhail Saakashvili. Speaking in the old presidential villa in Tbilisi, where he still lives, Shevardnadze said Saakashvili was unwise to try to reclaim the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia by force on August 8th. But the 80-year-old former Soviet diplomat also had some advice for the current residents of the Kremlin, who have made no secret of their desire to see Saakashvili overthrown.

Mr. SHEVARDNADZE: (Russian spoken)

WATSON: The more Russia squeezes Saakashvili, Shevardnadze said, the more his authority will grow. That, he added, is the nature of Georgians.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Tbilisi.

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