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Georgia accuses Russia of provocation after missile is fired

Air force officials deny assertions

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's president accused Russia yesterday of trying to sow panic and influence internal politics in its small southern neighbor after a one-ton missile dropped by a bomber landed near a house. Russia denied its aircraft had fired the missile, which did not explode.

Georgia said two Russian Su-24 jets entered Georgia's airspace over the Gori region, about 35 miles northwest of the capital late Monday, and fired a missile that landed 25 yards from a house on the edge of Shavshvebi village.

"This was a provocation aimed only at one thing, at disrupting the peace in Georgia, which would cause panic in society and ultimately change the political course of the country," President Mikhail Saakashvili said at the site.

Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, a spokesman for Russia's air force, denied the accusations. "Russian aircraft haven't conducted any flights over that area and haven't violated Georgia's airspace," he said.

Georgia has long accused Russia of trying to destabilize the former Soviet republic and of backing separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Saakashvili has pledged to bring back under central government control.

The Foreign Ministry summoned Russia's ambassador to hand him Tbilisi's formal protest, calling the intrusion and firing of the missile "undisguised aggression and a gross violation of sovereignty of the country."

Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko told reporters after receiving the note that Russian aircraft had not dropped the weapon. "It was not in Russia's interest," he said.

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