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Western Leaders Pressure Russia on Georgia Pullout

The European Union and United States were awaiting a promised pullout of Russian troops from Georgia, as the leadership of South Ossetia sacked its local government and declared temporary authoritarian rule.

Russian troops move on the road to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, Georgia 10 August 2008. Russia has confirmed receiving Sunday a note from Georgia, in which the latter announced an immediate unilateral ceasefire in the conflict over South Ossetia. After three days of fighting between Georgian and Russian troops in the breakaway region of South Ossetia Russian troops were in control of the capital Tskhinvali Sunday.

Russian troops headed for the capital on Aug. 10 -- are they on the way back to Russia?

Western allies of Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili upped the pressure on Russia to start the promised pullout of combat troops from Georgia on Monday, Aug. 18.

Moscow's plan to retain Russian peacekeepers in the embattled Caucasus provinces sparked new tension in Russia's relations with the European Union and United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured Saakashvili in Tbilisi that NATO remained ready to give membership to the ex-Soviet republic, as promised at a NATO summit in April, despite the conflict with Russia.

Angela Merkel met with Mikhail Saakashvili on Sunday, August 17

In a visit, Merkel offered Saakashvili support

"Georgia will become a member of NATO if it wants to -- and it does want to," Merkel said on Sunday.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Russia of acting in bad faith in the past. On US television she said the country's reputation was "in tatters."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, writing in the newspaper Le Figaro, demanded Russia pull out of Georgia "immediately" and said the point was "not negotiable."

Plan to install peacekeepers is disputed

With a ceasefire holding, President Dmitry Medvedev assured Sarkozy on Sunday that Russian regular forces "from tomorrow... will begin withdrawing."

French President Nicolas gestures as he addresses the media, following talks with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, early Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008.

Sarkozy says a pullout is "non-negotiable"

However, new tensions gathered over Russia's longer-term military plans in the small but strategically located ex-Soviet republic. Russia plans to deploy a peacekeeping force of unspecified size that Georgian officials worry could turn into an open-ended occupation.

"There is no such notion any more in Georgia as Russian peacekeepers," Saakashvili said at a press conference with Merkel. "There can be no Russian peacekeepers -- these are just Russian forces."

Meanwhile, the leader of the breakaway region at the heart of the Georgia-Russia conflict said on Monday he would ask Moscow to station a military base in South Ossetia.

On Sunday, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity dismissed his government and proclaimed a state of emergency in the rebel region, Russia's Vesti-24 television reported.

South Ossetia leader opposes OSCE observers

Asked in a separate interview with Reuters news service if he would like a permanent Russian base in the region, Kokoity said: "We will ask the leadership of the Russian Federation for there to be a Russian military base on the territory of South Ossetia because Russian citizens live here."

International organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have offered to send observers to the region.

But Kokoity, sometimes using emotional language, said he would not accept international observers in his region again.

Russian soldiers sit atop of their armored personnel carrier, heading from the city of Senaki towards the Abkhazian border in western Georgia, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008.

Russian soldiers are still in Georgia

Russian troops on Monday were still holding positions about 35 kilometers (20 miles) north of Tbilisi, and near the Georgian cities of Poti and Senaki on the Black Sea coast.

Rice: Russia's reputation 'in tatters'

The Georgian government has accused the Russians of acting in bad faith in the past, given a mere three kilometer retreat on Thursday.

Rice meanwhile pressured Russia to live up to its promises under the EU-brokered ceasefire.

"Russia overreached, used disproportionate force against a small neighbor and is now paying the price," Rice told NBC television's Meet the Press. "Russia's reputation as a potential partner in international institutions, diplomatic, political, security, economic, is frankly, in tatters."

Reports of Russian soldiers leaving Georgia

The ceasefire deal is meant to conclude a five-day conflict in which Russian forces drove off a Georgian army assault overnight on Aug. 7 against Moscow-backed separatists in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

In Gori, a Russian-occupied town beyond South Ossetia, the commanding general said a switch from regular troops had already begun.

"The Russian troops are starting to pull out and Russian peacekeepers are coming in," Gen. Vyacheslav Borisov told AFP.

A reporter with the AFP news service reported seeing a long column of Russian vehicles, including about 25 tanks and 25 armored personnel carriers, parked outside Gori.

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