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Death Toll From Abkhazia Cafe Blast Rises To Four


Georgia -- Map with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, updated 2008

Georgia -- Map with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, updated 2008

Separatist leaders in Georgia's pro-Moscow Abkhazia region say they are cutting all ties with the central government in Tbilisi after an explosion that killed four people in the breakaway province.

The Interfax news agency quotes Abkhazia's de facto leader Sergei Bagapsh as saying that his government is "ending all contacts with Georgia due to Tbilisi's policy of state terrorism."

Bagapsh's comments came a day after four people were killed and another five were wounded when a powerful blast ripped through a crowded cafe in the Abkhaz town of Gali, near the de facto border with Georgia.

'Carefully Planned'

Speaking on Georgian television, Ruslan Kishmaria, Bagapsh's representative in Gali, blamed Tbilisi for the explosion:

"This was a carefully planned and executed diversionary act," he said. "There is no doubt that the Georgian special services were involved."

A spokesman for Georgia's Interior Ministry, Shota Utiashvili, dismissed the allegation as "absurd and groundless."

Abkhaz officials routinely accuse Georgia of responsibility for violence in the separatist region, saying Tbilisi is seeking to seize it by force. Georgian officials routinely deny responsibility, calling such incidents provocations by separatist authorities and their patrons in Russia.

Malkhaz Akishbaia, prime minister of the Tbilisi-backed Abkhaz government-in-exile, said the violence in Abkhazia is the result of a complete breakdown in the rule of law under Bagapsh's rule.

"The situation in Abkhazia is deteriorating with each day. This is the result of the environment in which people are living," he said. "This is an environment in which criminal groups have free reign, where human rights are violated all the time, where chaos and impunity are everywhere."

Georgian officials say the blast in Gali was one of six explosions in or near Abkhazia on July 6.

Four mines exploded near the village of Rukhi, in Georgia's Zubdidi region near Abkhazia. One of the mines went off under a police car when local officers were investigating the site after the initial blasts.

A fifth bomb went off at another village, also close to the de facto frontier with Abkhazia.

Series Of Bombings

In the past week, there have also been a series of bombings, mortar shelling, and shootouts in the region.

Georgia's rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from central rule during wars in the 1990s and are flashpoints for tensions with Russia, which provides financial support and has peacekeepers in both.

Tensions have risen in recent months as Georgia has stepped up its efforts to join NATO, which Russia staunchly opposes.

U.S. President George W. Bush raised Russia's relations with Georgia with President Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, northern Japan.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report
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