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Georgia Sends Police Near Abkhazia

12 January 2005 -- Georgia has sent police reinforcements in areas bordering its separatist republic of Abkhazia.

The decision was made after unidentified gunmen yesterday assaulted ethnic Georgian villages located in and near Abkhazia's southern Gali District, taking away vehicles and a number of residents.

Gali is populated mainly by Georgians who returned there after the 1992-1993 war that led to Abkhazia's de facto independence.

Addressing cabinet members today in Tbilisi, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania warned that any new attack against residents in Gali or surrounding areas would be met adequately: "Let no one harbor any illusions. The Georgian government will not spend time trying to figure out which Abkhaz [armed] group should be blamed, or who attacked whom. We will smash the face of anyone who will try to harm the interests and security of our population."

Georgian officials believe yesterday's incidents were aimed at dissuading Gali residents from taking part in today's polls.

Abkhaz voters today elect their new president in a rerun of the vote, called after last year's political crisis that brought their region to the brink of civil war.

(Prime News/Novosti-Gruziya/Civil Georgia/IA Regnum ru)