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    MOSCOW RESPECTS GEORGIA'S SOVEREIGNTY AND TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY

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    MOSCOW, March 17, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - Russia's stand in the conflict between Tbilisi and Batumi is respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has announced.

    "Igor Ivanov has confirmed Russia's stand, which implies respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and believes that the conflict between Batumi and Tbilisi should be settled by a constructive dialogue," he said at a press conference.

    According to him, Mr. Ivanov expressed these views in his yesterday's phone conversation with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili, in his turn, pointed out that Russia could play a special part in the current confrontation.

    Apart from this, Mr. Ivanov confirmed "in connection with Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's visit to Adzharia that the Moscow Mayor's efforts to establish a dialogue between Batumi and Tbilisi are supported by Russian leadership." In response, the Georgian President agreed to receive the Mayor, Mr. Lavrov said. Also, Mr. Ivanov and Mr. Saakashvili agreed that the Georgian National Security Council Secretary on Wednesday would visit Moscow.

    On Sunday, March 14th, Mr. Saakashvili and his escort were not allowed across the administrative border of Adzharia.

    On the same day Mr. Saakashvili delivered an ultimatum to Adzharian leader Aslan Abashidze, asking to ensure the President's freedom of movement in the autonomous republic within 24 hours. The President called Mr. Abashidze "a feudal lord" and accused him of creating his own army that did not obey central authorities.

    Georgia's air space was closed, an anti-crisis center for Adzharian affairs was set up.

    The situation around the republic was the centerpiece of the March 15th extraordinary session of he Georgian government in the Black Sea port of Poti. On Tuesday the Georgian authorities introduced economic blockade of Adzharia.

    In response Adzharian leaders introduced the state of emergency and curfew in the republic.

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