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Georgia Seeks To Isolate Russian-Backed Regions

TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgia has outlawed investment in its breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions and imposed entry restrictions on foreigners, under legislation designed to isolate the two Russian-backed territories.

The measures were included in legislation approved by parliament late on October 23 that declared the two regions were occupied territories.

Georgia fought a five-day war with Russia in August during which Georgian security forces were driven from both regions after a failed bid to retake South Ossetia.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s in wars that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia recognized them as independent states after the August conflict, angering Western governments who said Moscow's military counterstrike was disproportionate.

"This law describes the reality in these territories, and the situation we face," said Givi Targamadze, head of the Defense and Security Committee of the Georgian parliament.

"If Europe shows solidarity with us, this law will work," he told Reuters.

The legislation appears targeted primarily at the Russian investment and tourism that has propped up the Black Sea resort of Abkhazia since it split from Georgia. South Ossetia too is reliant on Russian aid.

Railway Blast

The law bans economic and commercial activities on the territory of both regions without the permission of the Georgian government. The sale and purchase of property is deemed illegal, as are banking operations.

Foreigners face prosecution if they enter the regions from Russia without the permission of the authorities in Tbilisi. Georgian permission is also required for humanitarian aid deliveries, the legislation states.

Access to the two regions from Georgia has already been curtailed by Russian forces controlling the de facto borders.

On October 24, Georgia accused Russia of bombing a railway bridge between core Georgian territory and the mainly Georgian-populated region of Gali in Abkhazia.

"It looks like they want to close off the border," a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said. "It is a deliberate policy of cutting communications." The bridge is used mainly by villagers crossing the de facto border on foot.

Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted in war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake South Ossetia.

Russia's powerful counterstrike drove the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia. Moscow's troops pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks, but pulled back this month under a French-brokered cease-fire deal.

The Kremlin plans to station 7,600 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.