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MAKE IT STOP; Russians just 30 miles from Georgia's capital as Gori falls Brown and Bush warn Putin to back off but battle rages on.

Byline: BY CHRIS HUGHES SECURITY CORRESPONDENT

RUSSIAN forces rolled deep into Georgia and were last night just 30 miles from its capital after stepping up the conflict over South Ossetia.

Troops marched in through neighbouring Abkhazia province and captured the key central city of Gori as Georgian soldiers were busy fighting in South Ossetia.

There are fears the Russians will now blitz Georgia's capital Tbilisi.

PM Gordon Brown warned Russia to back off. He said: "There is no justification for continued Russian military action in Georgia, which threatens stability of the region and risks a humanitarian catastrophe."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the other Group of Seven top industrialised nations yesterday called on Russia to accept an immediate ceasefire

But swarms of Russian planes launched raids across Georgia as EU envoys headed for Moscow with a ceasefire pledge signed by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Fighting is still raging around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital.

Russian troops have also taken the Georgian towns of Senaki, Zugdidi and Kurga.

Mr Saakashvili branded the Russian aggression "pre-meditated murder of a small country".

But Russian PM Valdimir Putin has accused him of the genocide of Russians living in South Ossetia claiming 2,000 people died when the capital Tskhinvali was shelled on Thursday.

Russia also claimed Georgian troops burned a city church with pensioners inside. One elderly resident said: "The street smells of death, with bodies of people lying uncovered." He claimed Georgian soldiers executed a young neighbour for marrying an Ossetian man.

He said: "The poor girl was shot dead. I heard the Georgian soldiers who went inside their flat were shouting something about betrayal."

Russia also accused Georgia of committing other war crimes claiming its troops burned a group of girls alive in a house, stabbed a baby and drove a tank over an elderly refugee.

Mr Saakashvili said Russia has sent 20,000 troops and 500 tanks into Georgia.

The US claimed Russia was preparing to invade months before the Georgians moved into South Ossetia to take back the breakaway province within its borders.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza said: "We heard statements saying the Russian railroad troops that entered Abkhazia a couple of months ago were there for a humanitarian mission.

"Now we know the truth that these forces were there to rebuild the railway to allow military supplies to aid a Russian invasion."

President George Bush and Mr Putin traded sharp barbs yesterday.

Mr Bush told NBC TV: "I've expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn the bombing outside of South Ossetia."

But Mr Putin said the US was wrongly viewing Georgia as the victim instead of the aggressor.

He said: "Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shia villages. And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed 10 Ossetian villages, who ran elderly people and children with tanks, who burned civilians alive - these leaders must be taken under protection."

And he hit out at the US for flying back 800 Georgian troops back from duties in Iraq on Sunday.

Meanwhile, a British family caught up in the conflict on a walking holiday in Georgia yesterday told how they fled the fighting.

David, 43, and Helen Barr and their two young daughters, from Chichester, West Sussex, were in the mountains around Tlaneti.

David said: "We were monitoring the news to see which places were bombed so we could plan our route out." They caught a minibuses bound for Turkey with 30 other foreigners and were helped by a Polish consular official.

Russian attack is pre-meditated murder of a small country

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI

CAPTION(S):

IN LINE OF FIRE Georgian troops flee burning Gori yesterday; INVASION Russian soldiers on Abkhazian border yesterday; ANGUISH Mother collapses after hearing her son died in Gori; BLITZ Civilians run as Russian rocket targets troops leaving Gori
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 12, 2008
Words:650
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