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Abkhaz Leader Says Region Moving Closer To Russia

Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh (file photo) 17 August 2005 -- The leader of Georgia's separatist Republic of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh, said today that his region continues to seek associate membership of the Russian Federation.

Addressing reporters in Moscow, Bagapsh also said that Abkhazia will continue to bring its legislation into line with that of Russia and that within a year all Abkhaz will hold Russian citizenship. He said that more than 80 percent of Abkhaz already hold Russian passports.

"Abkhazia's movement toward associated membership of the Russian Federation continues," Bagapsh said. "Consultations about this are taking place. To achieve this [goal], we agreed about our pre-election programs, and we continue to work on it today -- we are synchronizing the legislation of our republic with that of the Russian Federation."

Russia began issuing passports to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's other separatist republic, four years ago.

Officials in Tbilisi have denounced the move as an infringement on Georgia's sovereignty, but many residents in both republics argue that they need Russian passports to travel abroad.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia seceded from Georgia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, triggering wars with Tbilisi. Both regions have since maintained close political and economic ties with Russia.

(compiled from Russian and Georgian news agencies)

Also on Georgian-Abkhaz relations:

"Can Moves Toward Abkhaz-Georgian Rapprochement Continue?"

"Georgia: Authorities Indicate Possible Compromise On Abkhaz Railways"

"Georgia: Analyst Ghia Nodia Assesses Saakashvili's Attempts To Transform Country"

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