Putin visits Georgian rebel region

2nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Thursday made an unannounced visit to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia to attend the funeral of its leader Sergei Bagapsh, an AFP correspondent said.

Putin bowed his head in front of the open coffin and expressed his condolences to Bagapsh's daughter and wife, the correspondent said, as thousands paid their respects at a mourning ceremony in Sukhumi before the funeral in the former leader's home village.

Russia recognised Abkhazia and fellow Georgian rebel region South Ossetia as independent after the 2008 war between Moscow and Tbilisi, a move that has been followed by only a handful of other states.

Putin said at a meeting with Abkhaz officials that he was ready to boost Moscow's support for the region, increasing financial aid from its current level of $358 million (247 million euros), the Interfax news agency reported.

He last visited Abkhazia in August 2009, promising military backing for Abkhazia in any new conflict with Georgia during a trip that sparked Western condemnation.

Abkhaz separatists waged a fierce war against Tbilisi's forces after the Soviet Union's collapse that killed thousands and caused some 250,000 people, mostly ethnic Georgians, to flee their homes.

The Black Sea region and South Ossetia are still claimed by Georgia, which describes them as territories "occupied" by the Russian forces stationed there, and neither is recognised by the West.

Bagapsh, 62, died after lung surgery in hospital in Moscow on Sunday.

He had been in power since 2005 and was re-elected head of the separatist region by a crushing margin in 2009.

There was no official reaction to his death from Georgia, but Putin's visit is likely to anger Tbilisi.

© 2011 AFP

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