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South Ossetian President Scorns Georgian Autonomy Plan

26 January 2005 -- The leader of Georgia's separatist republic of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, has rejected Tbilisi's offer to renounce independence in return for broader autonomy for his region.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made the proposal today before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He said his plan envisaged granting South Ossetia the right to elect its own parliament and government, and have a say in some of Georgia's domestic affairs.

But Kokoity, who is on a visit to Moscow, told reporters there that his region intends to remain independent from Georgia: "Saakashvili today missed an opportunity to become a national hero of South Ossetia by recognizing its independence in Strasbourg. By acknowledging the responsibility of his predecessors, he would have made a strong political gesture. The people of Ossetia would have made him a national hero and greeted him in Tskhinvali with bouquets of roses."

Kokoity also said he would seek to further strengthen relations with Russia. Russia has been maintaining close ties with South Ossetia since the region gained de facto independence from Georgia in 1992. Up to 95 percent of South Ossetians reportedly carry Russian passports.

(Civil Georgia/Imedi TV/RIA-Novosti)