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    Georgian leader says Russian troops blocking central highway

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    TBILISI, August 11 (RIA Novosti) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Monday that the Russian military has blocked a central highway linking east and west Georgia.

    Russia troops entered the main part of Georgia's territory earlier on Monday, as Russia continued its peace enforcement operation to prevent further Georgian incursions into breakaway South Ossetia.

    Saakashvili said in press briefing at the Georgian Security Council: "This evening they [Russian troops] managed to reach the central highway and cut off eastern Georgia from the country's west."

    He compared the situation to 1921, when Soviet forces entered Georgia.

    "We now face one of the greatest threats in the country's history, when we stand to lose our independence," he said.

    Alexander Novitsky, a senior Russian peacekeeping official, said on Monday that Russian aircraft had destroyed two Georgian helicopters at the Senaki airbase in western Georgia, near the border with breakaway Abkhazia, during a reconnaissance and patrol mission. He identified the helicopters as an Mi-8 and an Mi-24.

    Russia drove Georgian troops out of the devastated South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, on Sunday, two days after Tbilisi launched a major ground and air offensive to regain control of the pro-Russian region. Russia says 2,000 civilians, mainly Russian nationals, were killed in the Georgian onslaught, and that over 34,000 refugees have fled to Russia.

    Earlier in the day a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said Russia had launched preventive military operations near Senaki to avert possible further attacks on South Ossetia.

    Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze later said Russian troops had captured the Senaki base, but the report has not been confirmed by Moscow.

    Saakashvili, who seeks NATO membership for Georgia, has pledged to bring the two pro-Russian separatists republics under central control. Most residents of both republics have Russian passports.

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