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Georgia, Turkey Strike Deal On Jailed Captain

TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgia has said it had agreed with Turkey on the fate of a tanker captain jailed for violating a Georgian embargo on breakaway Abkhazia, hinting at his imminent release.

The blockade, in which Georgian coast-guard authorities say they have detained four boats this year, has raised tensions in the Black Sea, with Russian-backed Abkhazia threatening to "destroy" Georgian ships in retaliation.

Asked after meeting his Turkish counterpart whether they had agreed on the release of the Turkish captain, who was jailed last week for 24 years, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told reporters:

"I think we found a solution to this issue. The final decision will be announced tomorrow after the meeting with the Georgian president."

"I think we found a solution suitable for all sides."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week that captain Mehmet Ozturk would be released in exchange for an $18,000 fine, which tanker operator Densa said it would pay. Seventeen crew members were freed on September 5.

Davutoglu will meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on September 8. He said talks with Vashadze had been "fruitful."

"Georgia and Turkey are strategic partners and allies, and we should take care in order that such things do not happen again in the future," he said.

Georgia banned all economic and commercial activity in its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, after last year's five-day war with Russia, when Moscow repelled a Georgian assault on South Ossetia.

Russia recognized both as independent states. Russian troops secure their de facto borders, including Abkhazia's coastline.

The Turkish tanker, operating under a Panamanian flag with a Turkish and Azerbaijani crew, was seized in August as it tried to deliver 2,000 tons of gasoline and 700 tons of diesel.

Its operator says the vessel was seized at gunpoint in international waters. Georgian coast-guard authorities said they detained the ship in Georgian waters. It had made several trips to Abkhazia before.