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Putin Piles On As Georgia Grapples With War Memorial Tragedy

Remnants of the Kutaisi memorial after the explosion
Remnants of the Kutaisi memorial after the explosion
The fallout continues for Georgia over the fatal demolition of a war memorial in the western city of Kutaisi.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had razed the Soviet-era sculpture out of personal pique and a formal desire to clear a site for the future parliament building, has continued a wave of dismissals and arrests after a Kutaisi woman and her 8-year-old daughter were killed by flying boulders of concrete unleashed by the December 19 blast. (A cell-phone video that captures the precise moment of the explosion, and its horrifying consequences, has stirred public outrage since appearing on YouTube yesterday.)

And Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who knows a ripe political opportunity when he sees one, upped the ante today. Lambasting Saakashvili's initiative as an attempt to "erase the former Soviet people's memory of their common past, including their heroic past," Putin gallantly praised the artistic value of the 1980s-era Glory Memorial and suggested it be rebuilt in Moscow, "the capital of our former union state."

The memorial's creator, 82-year-old sculptor Merab Berdzenishvili, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service he had "no comment" regarding Putin's proposal.

Eka Kherkheulidze, a parliament majority member, expressed skepticism about Putin's largesse, telling RFE the Russian premier would "be better off preserving the memory of those who lost their lives during the August war last year, and taking care of the thousands of people who still remain homeless."

-- Daisy Sindelar

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