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Georgian leader declares state of emergency

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: United States expresses concern over the developments
  • Emergency decree would place media outlets under government control
  • Kremlin dismisses leader's actions and comments as "anti-Russia hysteria"
  • Security forces are trying to end five days of protests that have drawn thousands
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(CNN) -- Growing tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia reached a new stage Wednesday as Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili declared a nationwide state of emergency and expelled several Russian diplomats.

Georgian riot police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse anti-government protesters in Tbilisi.

The emergency decree, which must go before parliament for ratification, was part of an effort to quell violent anti-government protests that Saakashvili blamed on Russian officials.

If approved, it would place media outlets under government control, and clamp down on demonstrations.

The United States was monitoring the situation, said Gordon Johndroe, National Security Council spokesman.

"We are concerned about the reports from Georgia," he said.

"We urge that any protests be peaceful and that both sides refrain from violence. The government and opposition should engage in a constructive dialogue with each other."

Earlier Wednesday, security forces used water cannons and tear gas against the crowds in the capital, Tbilisi. Hospital officials said about 100 people were injured in scuffles with police. Video Watch the protests »

Tens of thousands of Georgians began protesting against Saakashvili last Friday, seeking to oust him.

The demonstrations are the largest in Georgia since the 2003 Rose Revolution that swept pro-Western Saakashvili to power.

"This bloody action of the government will cause the new wave of the mass protest in this country, which may lead to the end of this government," an opposition leader said. Video Watch a report on the political turmoil »

Protesters accuse the president of corruption, authoritarianism and failing to tackle poverty. Photo See photos of the demonstrations »

Saakashvili has denied the charges, and accused Russian leaders of fomenting the political crisis.

But the Kremlin dismissed Saakashvili's actions and comments as "anti-Russia hysteria," according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

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"The statements made by President Saakashvili and accusations against Russia, as well as the declaration of several Russian diplomats 'personae non gratae,' and everything we are witnessing are anti-Russia hysteria. There are no other words to describe this," Interfax quoted an unnamed Kremlin source as saying Wednesday.

Saakashvili was swept to power on a promise to tackle corruption in the former Soviet satellite state. However, the country is still struggling to recover from years of post-Soviet economic decay, instability and civil war. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Matthew Chance contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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