Category: world
Updated: 07/08/09 : 13:21:30

First anniversary of Georgian war - tensions high

Bonfires blazed in Georgia to mark the first anniversary on Friday of the former Soviet republic's five-day war with Russia over breakaway South Ossetia, where the risk of renewed hostilities remains.

Georgian forces launched an assault on South Ossetia late on August 7 after days of clashes with separatists and years of escalating tension with Moscow, drawing a devastating Russian counter-strike that ended on August 12.

The war killed at least 390 civilians and at its height displaced more than 100,000. A year on, an unfulfilled ceasefire pact, sporadic gunfire and the withdrawal of monitors from pro-Western Georgia's two rebel regions keep alive the risk of renewed war.

Midnight bonfires in the Georgian capital and other towns marked the first in a series of competing ceremonies on Friday in the South Caucasus country and rebel South Ossetia.

A photo exhibition in Tbilisi complete with dummies dressed as Soviet soldiers portrayed the war as the continuation of a Russian occupation stretching back to the Russian empire. Television spots declared "Stop Russia" and "The Fight Goes On."

South Ossetia plans a march and a candlelight ceremony in the scarred rebel capital Tskhinvali. Russia has put its troops there on alert, and accused the United States of re-arming the Georgian "war machine."

Russia blames the "aggression" of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his U.S.-trained army, and says it fought to defend Russian peacekeepers and civilians holding Russian passports.

Georgia says Russia had already invaded when it launched the assault on South Ossetia, a charge Moscow dismissed as absurd. The invasion, Georgia says, was years in the making by its old Soviet master, punishment for seeking membership of NATO.

"Separatism was just a weapon in Russian hands against Georgian statehood," Georgian State Minister for Re-Integration Temur Iakobashvili said.