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Europe

EU, NATO Concerned as Kaczynski Accuses Russia of Shooting

NATO and the EU have expressed concern after shots were fired Sunday at a convoy carrying the Georgian and Polish presidents near South Ossetia. Poland's leader Lech Kaczynski later pointed the finger at Russia.

Mikheil Saakashvili, right, and Lech Kaczynski, left

Kaczynski, left, and Georgia's Saakashvili were quick to point the finger at Russia

At a joint press conference, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and EU foreign policy head Javier Solana stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at Russia, despite Moscow and Tbilisi trading accusations over the shooting, seemingly aimed at either Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili or Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

"I don't know exactly what happened," de Hoop Scheffer said. "It is wrong and certainly not in the spirit of the (ceasefire) agreement," which ended the brief war between Georgia and Russian in August, he added.

"We are not blaming anyone, but I blame certainly those who started the shooting."

Georgia, however, has blamed Russian troops stationed near South Ossetia of opening fire as the presidential convoy drove past, a charge Russia has denied.

Georgia was celebrating the fifth anniversary of its pro-Western Rose Revolution.

"We are in contact with the (EU) monitors," in Georgia and "we will see later today" what the observer mission reports on the incident, the EU's Solana said.

Polish president points the finger at Russia

Kaczynski on Monday blamed Russia for firing on the convoy, despite Moscow's denials.

"There is reason to believe that the Russians did the shooting," Kaczynski told reporters after returning from his visit to Georgia.

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski

President Kaczynski made it clear who he thinks is responsible

"I knew in advance that there was a Russian post there, one which shouldn't have been there" under the terms of August's ceasefire between Moscow and Tbilisi, Kaczynski said.

"I wanted to check on site, and three or four Kalashnikov volleys were fired off -- though I'm not saying they were fired in my direction," he said.

"The Russians, of course, are talking about a set-up by the Georgians," he added.

Moscow and Tbilisi have traded accusations over the incident near the convoy carrying Saakashvili and his staunch ally Kaczynski Sunday, as Georgia marked the fifth anniversary of its pro-Western "Rose Revolution."

Georgia accused Russian troops near the breakaway region of South Ossetia of opening fire as the convoy carrying the two leaders drove by -- a claim Russia denied.

In Warsaw Monday, foreign ministers from the Visegrad Group of states including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia as well as the three EU Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania and Sweden condemned the incident and called for an investigation.

"The ministers express deepest concern and strongly condemn the incident in Georgia on 23 November 2008 when machine-gun fire was opened in immediate vicinity of a motorcade carrying the presidents of Georgia and Poland, close to South Ossetia, Georgia," the minister said in a joint statement.

"The Ministers call for proper investigation and clarification of the incident," it said.

NATO chief dispels rumors of naval blockade in Somalia

German marines on board a frigate off the coast of Somalia

NATO has no plans to set up a naval blockade

De Hoop Scheffer also used the press conference to dispel notions NATO was considering a naval blockade to counter pirates in waters off Somalia.

"Blocking ports is not contemplated by NATO," he told reporters. He said a blockade did not have the backing of the UN Security Council. "This is, at the moment, not on the cards."

An EU mission, dubbed Atalanta, is to assume patrol duties off Somalia in mid-December from a four-vessel NATO fleet that has been protecting food aid shipments to the Horn of Africa.

Military top brass warns of Afghanistan failure

Also Monday, NATO's top military commander, General Bantz J. Craddock, said a stabilization of Afghanistan would not happen unless the alliance boosted its troop presence by 40 percent -- around 20,000 more soldiers.

Dutch NATO soldiers check an area around Panjwayi district of Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan

NATO forces in Afghanistan need a boost, says Craddock

The United States is set to deploy an extra brigade of up to 5,000 men to Afghanistan in 2009, and "we are looking at how to resource a request from (NATO) command in Afghanistan) for three more brigades," Craddock said at NATO headquarters in Belgium.

NATO currently has just over 50,000 men in Afghanistan under the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force, but they are facing an increasingly bloody challenge from the Taliban, especially in the restive East and South of the country.

"Where the security is problematic today is about the same places as it was a year ago ... but it is more virulent and it is at a higher tempo than it was last year," Craddock said.

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