Georgian town is largely desserted after Russian air attack

Army's main staging post, Gori, is largely deserted after thousands of residents flee from Russian air attack

Gori, the Georgian town close to the border with South Ossetia, was largely deserted last night after thousands of residents fled from Russian air attack.

"The town and many nearby villages are too dangerous. [People] are sleeping in the open," Saba Tsitsikashvili, editor of Kartlis Khma, a local paper, said in a phone interview. "There are also many wounded in the villages. They need help. No one knows how many are dead."

Gori is the Georgian army's main staging post on the way to and from the frontline. Russian bombers had been heard every night since the crisis escalated, Tsitsikashvili said, and were in the air again last night, in spite of a ceasefire on the Georgian side, he added.

In Tibilisi, the Georgian capital, people were angry at what they saw as a Russian invasion aimed at undermining the country's sovereignty and bringing it to heel.

"What is happening is not because of the separatist regions, which have been a headache for Georgia for over a decade now, but because of democracy in Georgia," said Giorgi, a 30-year-old lawyer. "Russia hates democracy, it's always been an authoritarian state and always will be. This Russian aggression is a fight against democracy, and the world must defend democracy."

"Russia has always wanted to see Georgia on its knees, but it will never achieve that," vowed Emzari, a 45-year-old technician. "I hope that Russia will retreat. I hope it will break its neck here in the Caucasus."

Hundreds gathered for a second day of anti-Russian protests in the central Rose Revolution Square after a text-message campaign. "Let's stand together against Russian aggression and occupation, and cheer our troops!" the message read.

Many people were also disillusioned by what they considered the feeble reaction of the west - particularly the United States, Georgia's main international ally. Many complained that Georgia had sent 2,000 troops to fight in Iraq, but when Georgia came under attack, Washington could only offer words in return.

"We've been hearing all these years that we've got strong and powerful friends across the ocean but it turned out these stories were just a bluff," said unemployed Valiko, 57.

"We may be stupid, we may have made mistakes, but will the US and Europe really let Russia get away with attacking another country?" demanded 26-year-old student Vakhtang.


Matthew Collin in Tbilisi and Jonathan Steele

The GuardianTramp

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