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Leaders of ex-Soviet republics support Georgia at rally

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Five countries' leaders stand with Georgian president at rally
  • NEW: Russian diplomat dismisses appearances as "rhetoric"
  • NEW: Shortly after rally, France announces Georgia has agreed to peace plan
  • Tens of thousands wave banners, cheer in front of parliament in Tbilisi
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TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) -- The leaders of a former Eastern Bloc nation and four former Soviet republics showed support for Georgia in its conflict with Russia at a massive rally in Georgia's capital Tuesday night.

President Mikheil Saakashvili, at a news briefing Monday, said Russia was seeking a full-scale invasion of Georgia.

The leaders of five nations stand on stage with Georgia's president during a rally in Tbilisi.

The presidents' appearances came shortly before France's leader announced that Georgia had accepted a Russian-French plan to end the conflict.

Thousands cheered as the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia stood with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, late Tuesday.

Like the latter four, Georgia is a former Soviet republic. At the rally, Saakashvili said the countries represented "the new Europe," and said Russia was trying to occupy "a real European country" when fighting started last week.

The European Union and the United States have accused Russia of infringing on Georgia's sovereignty. At the rally, Estonia's president, Toomas Ilves, said that "if you do not believe in freedom and democracy, you don't belong in Europe."

"It's only you people who believe in democracy and freedom that belong in Europe," Ilves said.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, dismissed the presidents' appearance at the rally as "rhetoric."

Churkin offered harsh words for Saakashvili, calling him an "inadequate" leader.

"I think Georgian authorities must put an end to the rhetoric and get back to serious business," Churkin told CNN, referring to a six-point plan announced by the Russian and French presidents earlier in the day that aims to settle the conflict over Georgia's separatist territories.

Later, French President Nikolas Sarkozy said Saakashvili had agreed to the plan, in which Russia would agree to conclude military operations, return its armed forces to the line preceding last week's start of the conflict and not use force again in Georgia.

The plan stops short of specifically addressing the issue of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Asked on CNN's "Situation Room" whether Moscow wants Saakashvili removed from Georgia, Churkin replied, "It is our recommendation."

"He has performed some horrific acts toward the people of South Ossetia, some major crimes against humanity have been committed which have been qualified as genocide and ethnic cleansing. It would be good for everybody -- him, his country and the international community -- for him to go."

But, Churkin added, "We are not going to deal with him directly."

Violence has raged since Thursday, when Georgia launched a crackdown on separatist fighters in autonomous South Ossetia, where most people have long supported independence.

Russia, which supports the separatists, responded Friday, sending tanks across its border into South Ossetia. The conflict quickly spread to parts of Georgia and to Abkhazia, another separatist region.

Saakashvili accused Russia of provoking the war to justify a full-scale invasion of the former Soviet state. The Russians said Saakashvili attacked first in an attempt to gain control of South Ossetia.

Hours before appearing with the five presidents Tuesday, Saakashvili made a separate address to the tens of thousands of people rallying in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi.

Waving above the crowd during the rally were dozens of flags: red-and-white Georgian ones; a few red, blue and-orange striped banners of Armenia; and at least two American flags.

Banners reading "Stop Russia!" were seen in the crowd as well as others showing a picture of a tank with a red X through it that said, "Free us from Russian war." Video Watch President Saakashvili's address »


Another said, "Soldiers! The whole Georgia is with you!" One person held a poster of the Russian flag with a Nazi swastika imposed on it. Video Watch Georgians rally in the capital »

"This is the nation of Georgia and, you, all Europeans see that we don't surrender. ... If you want to learn something about freedom, come to Georgia. Long live Georgia," one speaker said.

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