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The Georgian parliament speaker has again called on Russia to review
The Georgian parliament speaker has again called on Russia to review its decision to establish legal relations with the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"We are ready to establish good-neighborly relations with Russia. But we expect from Russia equal relations and respect for our sovereignty," Nino Burdzhanadze said.

Georgia has reacted furiously to Russia's announcement on Wednesday that it plans to strengthen its ties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which border on Russia and broke away from Georgia in wars after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said Thursday that Russia's plans to give legal status to companies in the two provinces and to cooperate with their governments was "an attempt to annex two Georgian regions." He also said Georgia is urging the UN Security Council and the OSCE to call emergency meetings on the issue.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili demanded earlier that Russia abandon its plans to strengthen cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying the moves violate Georgia's sovereignty.

"We demand that the Russian Federation revise all decisions made in violation of Georgia's sovereignty. Our efforts will be aimed at mobilizing the international community. We need serious action, not just words from our partners in the next days and weeks," the Georgian leader told a Cabinet session.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday Russia's president has ordered for the remaining visa restrictions on Georgians to be lifted, and for talks to be held with Tbilisi to readmit key Georgian imports into Russia.

The government has been instructed "to take steps to lift remaining visa restrictions for Georgian nationals... and to launch bilateral expert consultations on access to the Russian market for Georgian products," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia earlier relaxed its ban on entry visas for Georgians, imposed in September 2006 amid a diplomatic row over the brief arrest of Russian officers on spying charges. The scandal plunged relations between the former Soviet states to an all-time low. Moscow also cut rail, air and postal links to the Caucasus state. Passenger flights were resumed last month.

Visa restrictions affected thousands of Georgians working in Russia. Russia has been issuing business, employment, transit and student visas for Georgians since June 2007, while denying tourist visas.

Moscow also banned key Georgian exports, including wine and mineral water, in March 2006, citing health concerns. Tbilisi called the decision political.

Burdzhanadze told journalists Saturday: "If yesterday's statement by Vladimir Putin is really aimed at settling the Georgian-Russian relations, additional steps should be made. First of all, the recent decision on establishing special relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be canceled."

The Georgian foreign minister said Friday he doubted that Moscow really intends to improve ties with Tbilisi. In comments on Putin's order, Bakradze said he was certain that Georgia's "American and European friends will not be deceived" by Russia's latest steps.

Ex-Soviet breakaway regions have stepped up their drive for independence since Kosovo's declaration of independence in February. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, along with Moldova's Transdnestr, have since asked Russia's parliament, the UN and other organizations to recognize their independence.

Georgia is seeking to regain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Georgian leader has proposed granting Abkhazia broad autonomy and establishing a free economic zone in the separatist province, but Abkhazia rejected the offer.


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