Russia Halts Georgia Talks Over Embassy Protest

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia’said on Friday it had pulled out of talks with neighboring Georgia over disputes in separatist Georgian regions that have stirred tension between the two states.

The Russian Foreign Minstry cited loud and abusive protests outside its Tbilisi embassy in stopping the talks–held against a backdrop of bloodshed this month in the South Ossetia region. Georgia accuses Moscow of backing separatists in South Ossetia–which seeks union with Russia–and in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia.

US-educated president Mikhail Saakashvili aims to end the two rebellions and restore unity to Georgia–ruled from Moscow through seven decades of Soviet power.

"While such scenes outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi continue–it will be impossible to hold any contacts or talks with Georgia–either on military issues or a ‘big’ agreement," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

It said hundreds of people were expected to take part in protests on Friday.

"There is no doubt that the disturbance is going on with the knowledge and evident permission of the authorities," it said–adding that the complicity of the Georgian government was a breach of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

It also said the embassy had stopped issuing visas to Georgians who want to visit Russia–where tens of thousands of Georgians despairing of employment at home work or do business.

Georgia is a sensitive issue for Russia–bordering as it does on the restive south Russian region of Chechnya.

Saakashvili’s fiery rhetoric–including a warning to Russian holiday-makers that they risk being shot at if they vacation at Abkhazian coastal resorts–has raised the stakes in the row–which came to a head this month with violence in South Ossetia.

Russia has peacekeepers in both regions and–like Georgia–says it wants to resolve the disputes peacefully.

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