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Georgia strikes gas deal with Iran

Freezing weather worsens Georgia energy crisis

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Suffering through an energy crisis in the midst of an unusually cold winter, the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Saturday said Iran had agreed to provide it with emergency natural gas.

Officials hope natural gas will begin flowing Sunday into Georgia from Iran through Azerbaijan, said George Arveladze, a presidential administration official. Iran has agreed to provide Georgia with 4 million cubic meters daily, which should provide the country with some relief, he said.

Meanwhile, some electricity had been restored, but was being rationed throughout the capital, Tblisi. Authorities believe the crisis will be over by Monday, Arveladze said.

The energy crisis began last Sunday, when a series of explosions destroyed the Russian pipeline supplying Georgia with natural gas.

While Russian technicians worked to repair the pipeline, Georgia had been set to receive about half of the gas it needs from Russia through the neighboring country of Azerbaijan. That supply, however, slowed to a trickle Wednesday after Russia reported a problem with a compressor unit.

Power plants were using the natural gas to create electricity, but could not do so after the supply dwindled. Wednesday night, the main power lines connecting east and west Georgia went down, plunging the eastern half of the country -- except for some vital facilities such as hospitals -- into darkness.

Meanwhile, Arveladze said the government was subsidizing the price of kerosene so Georgians will only pay about half of the market price, and firewood was being distributed. The prices, however, likely remain high for many residents.

Although Georgia and much of Russia have been enduring what has been called the coldest weather in three decades, the temperatures were slightly warmer as of Saturday.

At About 1:30 p.m. in Tblisi, the temperature was 2 degrees Celsius, or about 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The projected low temperature Saturday night was minus 4 degrees Celsius, or 24 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arveladze said it was unclear whether Russia would have the pipeline fixed Saturday or Sunday. But, he said, once Iranian gas begins flowing, "then Russia won't see the usefulness of the energy blockade any longer."

Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili has complained about the slow pace of repairs to the Russian pipeline and hinted that Russia was deliberately stalling to punish the country and its pro-Western policies of recent years -- suspicions shared by many Georgians.

"It's an attempt to roll back democratic changes in the country," he said.

Russia, meanwhile, called those claims absurd and warned Georgia that such rhetoric will only further worsen relations between the two countries.

CNN International Correspondent Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.

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