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Powell: Russia - Hands off Georgia

Powell, left, has given support to acting Georgian president Nino Burdzhanadze, center. Looking on OSCE chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Powell, left, has given support to acting Georgian president Nino Burdzhanadze, center. Looking on OSCE chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

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MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (Reuters) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday no support should be given to Georgia's restive regions, a day after Georgia accused Russia of meddling in its domestic affairs.

"No support should be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia's territorial integrity," Powell told a meeting in the Dutch city of Maastricht of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Georgia's interim President Nino Burdzhanadze said at the OSCE summit on Monday her country wanted to repair relations with Russia but not at the cost of its sovereignty.

Burdzhanadze was appointed after Eduard Shevardnadze quit following mass unrest among Georgians who accused his regime of vote-rigging in parliamentary elections last month.

The new Georgian government was irritated last week when Russian officials met leaders from South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- which broke free of Georgian control more than a decade ago -- and Adzhara -- which has never espoused outright separatism.

"Russia is not ready yet to begin new relations with Georgia," she told a news conference on Monday. "They want their military bases to remain in Russian territory. They want to have Georgia not as a friend but as a dependent partner."

"I want to begin to build new relations on the basis of a peaceful resolution of problems that we have, on the basis of respect of each other, not on the basis of the syndrome of Big Brother that Russia had during its imperial past," she added.

"Our proposal is to have something like a triangle, Georgia, the United States, Russia, because we have a lot of problems where the United States could play a very positive role."

Western states see Georgia as a key transit country for a planned pipeline to bring Caspian oil to the Mediterranean and are watching events there closely, mindful of a chaotic civil war that gripped the country in the 1990s.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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