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Europe

Accusations Fly After Georgian, Polish Convoy Allegedly Fired On

Accusations of shots fired near a convoy carrying Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Polish President Lach Kaczynski marred fifth anniversary celebrations of Georgia's pro-Western "Rose Revolution."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili

It wasn't immediately clear where the shots came from

Moscow and Tblisi exchanged accusations over an alleged shooting incident Sunday, Nov. 243, near the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Saakashvili accused Russian troops of opening fire on a convoy he was riding in with Kaczynski, forcing them to turn back.

"We heard machine-gun volleys about 30 meters (100 feet) from where I was," the Polish PAP news agency quoted Kaczynski as saying. Automatic gunfire could be heard in shaky television footage but it was unclear where it was coming from.

Georgia and Russia trade blame

Headshot of Polish President Lach Kaczynski

Polish President Kaczynski backed Georgia's claim of shots fired

Georgia and Russia, which fought a five-day war in August, accused each other of provocation over the incident.

"Frankly I didn't expect the Russians to open fire. I thought they clearly saw that this was an official cortege, this was a high delegation," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said, speaking in English in comments broadcast on BBC World Service radio.

Russian forces, he said, "were not happy to see us and reacted in this barbaric way."

"Clearly it was intended as a provocation, certainly I would never intend to put the life of the president of Poland in danger, that was not my intention but the reality is that you know you are dealing with unpredictable people," he added.

"Aggression continues in Georgia," he said. "The ceasefire and the European Union-brokered agreement are being violated."

Kaczynski was less direct with his words at a news conference: "I appeal from this spot to my friends in the European Union to draw the proper conclusions from this event before it is too late ... I do not regret that trip along that dark road."

Russia : "This is a clear provocation"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was accompanying President Dmitry Medvedev on a trip to the Peruvian capital Lima for the Asia-Pacific summit, denied the allegation and accused Georgia of deliberate provocation.

"This is a clear provocation," he told reporters in the Peruvian capital Lima. "It is not the first time they are doing so. They are organizing the provocation and then blame the Russian side."

"When the president invites people to some kind of celebration in Tbilisi and then takes a car and takes him to another state, is it not a provocation? Of course it was," he said.

Three soldiers in fatigues standing watch at a checkpoint as cars line up in the background

The checkpoint soldiers were South Ossetian, not Russian, said one security chief

"There was no kind of firing from our positions or South Ossetian positions," he added.

A South Ossetian security chief, Boris Attojev, backed up that claim, telling Russian newswire ITAR-TASS that his soldiers stopped the Polish-Georgian convoy and explained that the border was closed, after which the motorcade left peacefully.

Earlier Sunday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin had dismissed the claim as "one more instance of wishful thinking on the part of Georgia."

Tensions remain high in South Ossetia and in another breakaway region, Abkhazia, following the August conflict.

Russian forces had pushed into Georgia -- whose candidacy for NATO membership is up for review in December -- on Aug. 8 to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake the pro-Moscow breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russian forces have pulled back from buffer zones into South Ossetian territory and a 225-strong EU observation mission is monitoring a fragile ceasefire.

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