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Sweeping Promises

11 a.m. local time (9 a.m. GMT)

Finally, we can breathe a bit easier here in Poti. But it's not because any Russian troops have gone anywhere; it's just that the heat has let up a bit.

For a few minutes this morning there was a power outage, but fortunately it was so brief that people didn't even have time to start panicking.

I took one of my kids out with me this morning, for some fresh air and to get a sense of how residents are doing.

I met a street cleaner who was sweeping the pavement and talking rather excitedly to herself. Naturally, I was interested in finding out why she was so animated. She said it was the presence of Russian troops. She said that since all this began, she can't sleep -- like me and like so many others who've told me that every engine revving or loud noise reminds them of "those days" and startles them.

"All my life I've complained about my life and my work -- about why I was born at all only to do this dirty, difficult job," the street cleaner told me. "But, I swear, I'll never complain again if only we can have peace."

I also talked with a young policeman. I was curious about how the police are approaching their work -- levying fines and carrying out their enforcement duties as normal, or giving residents a break under the present, trying circumstances. He said there's been absolutely no change; they're fining people when they deserve fines and otherwise doing their jobs.

As for residents' overriding concern, the Russian troops: I went to one of the checkpoints this morning, and I saw no sign of any preparations for withdrawal. When I talked to Deputy Mayor Lagvilava, though, he told me that -- from what local authorities understand -- the Russians will start their pullout by this evening. I told him that I'd just been there and it sure didn't look like anyone was preparing to go anywhere. But he reiterated that authorities have reliable information that indicates the Russians will pull out tonight.

I pressed Lagvilava on how town officials would know such things -- including whether they had direct contact with the Russians. He said they don't, so I presume this information is coming from Georgia's central government. That jibes with what National Security Council Secretary Alexandre Lomaia said on August 27 -- that the Russians should be gone from Poti within about two days.

The confrontation involving displaced families from Abkhazia squatting at the school for fellow IDPs from Abkhazia is still unresolved. I've heard that the school administrators have asked law enforcement bodies to help them evict those people -- saying they need to prepare for the new school year and have nowhere else to go.

A major demonstration is being planned for Poti on September 1. My sense is that a lot of people are likely to participate, if Russian troops still have their stranglehold on the town.