Saturday, October 7, 2006

Georgia Condemns Deportations by Russia

TBILISI, Georgia -- Russia on Friday deported a planeload of Georgians it said were in the country illegally, but Georgia said the Kremlin had now added a soft form of ethnic cleansing to its sanctions against its pro-Western neighbor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, under international pressure to lift the sanctions, hit back by saying the West should concentrate instead on persuading leaders in Tbilisi to change their "irresponsible" policies.

Russia has severed all transportation and postal links with Georgia, stopped issuing entry visas to Georgians and raided Georgian-owned businesses in Moscow in a row over Tbilisi's arrest last month of four Russian soldiers on spying charges.

The soldiers were released but their arrest ignited smoldering tensions between the two nations, at odds for years over Georgia's wish to move closer to the West and Tbilisi's hostility to the Russian leadership.

Some of the 136 Georgian deportees had tears in their eyes after arriving at Tbilisi airport. One woman dropped to her knees and kissed the tarmac. Russian officials said they were expelled because they did not have the right documents, but several showed reporters their passports with valid Russian entry visas.

As many as a million Georgians live and work in Russia, many without permits. Their remittances are an important contribution to a Georgian economy suffering high unemployment.

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ยท LONDON -- A senior British cabinet minister said on Friday that it would be better if Muslim women did not wear full veils, inflaming anger among the country's Islamic population and sparking heated debate on social integration.

Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, provoked a mixture of anger and derision on Thursday when he said the wearing of veils made community relations "more difficult" because they acted as "a visible statement of separation and difference."

While British newspapers and commentators applauded Straw's stance, which he said was designed to provoke a "mature debate," many Muslims reacted with anger.

The Lancashire Council of Mosques described his comments as "ill-judged and misconceived" and said many women found them "offensive and disturbing."

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