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Georgia To Sue Russia For Ethnic Cleansing

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, even though - as we just heard - Russia has announced an end to its military operations, leaders in Georgia say the Russians continue to bomb their territory. NPR's Ivan Watson is in Georgia, and he sent this story.

IVAN WATSON: Georgia is in a state of war with at least one of its western towns occupied by Russian soldiers. But that did not stop the trains from leaving the Georgian capital today and heading west across the country.

Alissa Kalandia(ph) works at the ticket counter at the train station in Tbilisi.

Did people buy tickets to go to the towns where the Russian soldiers are?

Ms. ALISSA KALANDIA (Railway Worker): Yes. Quite a lot.

WATSON: And they weren't scared?

Ms. KALANDIA: No. Scared, but they must go. They have houses, children, how do you say, they have - they need to go, and they go.

WATSON: But some people in the train station weren't going anywhere.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: This distraught elderly woman spent the night on a bench in the train station with her daughter and grandchildren. Last night, this family fled fighting in the Georgian town of Gori, about 50 miles west of the capital.

Civilians weren't the only people to flee as Russian soldiers advanced to the outskirts of the town. Hundreds of Georgian soldiers also abandoned Gori and raced up this highway to Tbilisi.

Today on the 50-mile stretch of road leading from Tbilisi to Gori, there wasn't a single uniformed Georgian soldier or policeman to be seen. Several tanks, military trucks and armored personnel carriers lay abandoned on the road, the result of last night's panicked retreat.

Despite the absence of Georgian soldiers, at around 11 o'clock this morning, Russian forces rained bombs on Gori, which is also the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.

The windows have all been shattered in Stalin Square. The Russians bombed this town and the central square. There have been a number of explosions here that have shattered all the windows and sprayed shrapnel across the area.

There have been a number of civilian casualties reported. We can see the wreckage of several vehicles, at least one foreign journalist reported killed, and residents here walking around stunned, staring at the damage in disbelief.

VAKTAN(ph): (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: Russia is bombing us, this Georgian man named Vaktan repeated over and over again. They killed my cousin yesterday, he added. Enough is enough. When asked about his own president, though, Vaktan spat on the ground and cursed.

Mr. VAKTAN: (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: In Gori, some Georgians blame Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for the military defeats their country has suffered over the past week.

(Soundbite of applause)

WATSON: But in Tbilisi this evening, thousands of demonstrators waving Georgian flags and signs saying Stop Russia and Ivan Go Home chanted support for Saakashvili during a defiant demonstration in front of the parliament building.

(Soundbite of protest)

WATSON: Saakashvili got on stage and promised to resist what he called Russian aggression. He also announced that Georgia would withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose organization that groups together republics from the former Soviet Union.

Demonstrators Mia Tudna(ph) and George Partskalidze(ph) said Georgians have to unite in this fight against their giant neighbor.

Ms. MIA TUDNA (Demonstrator): If Russia will win this now, then next will be Ukraine.

Mr. GEORGE PARTSKALIDZE (Demonstrator): It will be this way - of the whole Western world because we are only the first step.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, NPR News, Tbilisi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.