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Georgia: Attacks continuing despite Russia halt claim
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that he had ordered an end to military operations against Georgia, but Tbilisi reported more attacks after the statement was made.
Medvedev's announcement came minutes before French President Nicolas Sarkozy was to land in Moscow to negotiate terms for a possible cease-fire.
"I have reached a decision to halt the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace," Medvedev said. "The aggressor has been punished and has incurred very significant losses. Its armed forces are disorganized."
"The statement on the halt of the military action by Russia is the news we had expected. It's good news," Sarkozy said later, according to an Interfax report.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was also involved the talks.
Medvedev's decision would end five days of fighting that began in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.
The Georgian government claimed that despite Medvedev's announcement, Russian warplanes struck two villages and military forces bombed an ambulance outside the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, thousands of citizens engaged in a pro-Georgian rally in front of the parliament building.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who addressed the rally, has accused Russia of provoking the war to justify a full-scale invasion of the former Soviet state. The Russians say Saakashvili attacked first in an attempt to gain control of South Ossetia.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it wanted a demilitarized zone to be created in Georgian territory before a cease-fire could take effect.
The zone had to be big enough to prevent Georgia's military from again attacking the breakaway province, Lavrov said.
Russian troops who were already in the breakaway province on peacekeeping duty should remain, Lavrov explained, but Georgian troops who were part of that force should not return.
He said it would be best if Saakashvili stepped down as Georgia's leader -- something the president has vowed not to do -- but that Russia was not demanding his resignation.
"We have no plans to throw down any leadership," Lavrov said. "It is not part of our culture. It is not what we do."
However, Lavrov said Moscow did not trust the country's leadership.
He said Saakashvili's "barbaric and brutal action" had undermined trust in Georgia.
Meanwhile, the Russian military advanced further into Georgia overnight, heading toward cities outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
From the flashpoint South Ossetia, the Russian military moved south toward the central Georgia city of Gori, Georgia said. Russia said its troops were on the outskirts of the city.
Russian troops were also in Senaki, in western Georgia, having advanced from the breakaway area of Abkhazia, Russian and Georgian officials said.
Georgia's security chief Alexander Lomaia said Tuesday that Russian troops had left Senaki but remained on the outskirts of Zugdidi and around Gori, The Associated Press reported.
Lomaia said Russian aircraft bombed Gori on Tuesday morning, targeting administrative buildings and a street market in the center, AP reported.
A Dutch cameraman was killed on Tuesday morning in an incident in Gori, the Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed. He was identified as Stan Storimans, of RTL TV. The correspondent who accompanied him was also injured. There were no immediate details about the incident.
An Georgian Interior Ministry official added that Russian bombs hit one of the three pipelines carrying oil to the Black Sea port of Poti. There was no oil in the pipeline at the time, the ministry official said.
UK-based engery giant BP later said it had shut down two oil pipelines in the region as a "precautionary measure" linked to the security situation.
Georgia, a pro-Western ally of the U.S., is intent on asserting its authority over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which have strong Russian-backed separatist movements.
The situation in South Ossetia escalated rapidly from Thursday night, when Georgia said it launched an operation into the region after artillery fire from separatists killed 10 people. It accused Russia of backing the separatists.