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Georgia criticises Depardieu visit to breakaway region

Georgia said Wednesday that French movie star and new Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu had broken local law by visiting the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Depardieu, who is shooting a movie in the nearby Russian region of the North Caucasus, met senior officials from Abkhazia’s separatist authorities during a recent visit, according to media reports.

“Any foreigner who enters the territory of Georgia via the Abkhazian sector of the Russian-Georgian border violates the law,” Paata Zakareishvili, Georgia’s reintegration minister, told AFP.

“As far as this particular instance is concerned, I think that Mr Depardieu doesn’t deserve the honour of a minister’s comment on his behaviour because he is not a political figure,” he added.

Georgia considers Abkhazia, which tried to break away in an early 1990s war, part of its territory.

Russia, which fought a five-day skirmish with Georgia in 2008 over another separatist territory called South Ossetia, has thousands of troops stationed in Abkhazia — a situation condemned by the Georgian government as a de facto occupation.

Russia is one of only a handful of countries — including Nicaragua and Venezuela — to officially recognise Abkhazia as an independent state.

Georgia has been looking to improve relations with Russia and its own breakaway regions since the party of President Mikheil Saakashvili, a staunch US ally, lost parliamentary polls in October to a coalition headed by now-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

On Wednesday, Ivanishvili renewed calls for the reopening of a railway line running from the Georgian capital Tbilisi through Abkhazia to Russia.

Ivanishvili said the link — severed in 1992 — could help bring Tbilisi and Abkhazia closer, but added that the issue remains highly “politicised”.