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4:52pm UK, Sunday August 24, 2008

A fuel train has hit a mine and exploded near the stricken Georgian city of Gori, as Russia faced renewed European Union pressure to make a complete withdrawal.

Train explodes near Gori in Georgia

Train was apparently carrying fuel between Georgia and Azerbaijan

Officials said the train was on the main track of the line linking eastern and western Georgia, a vital trade route for oil exports from Azerbaijan to European markets.

It is not thought that anyone was seriously injured in the explosion.

Witnesses described seeing huge plumes of black smoke pouring from the wreckage of the train in the village of Skra, three miles west of Gori.

Emergency services managed to unhitch 19 wagons and move them away from the fire, averting possible further explosions.

Georgian prime minister Lado Gurgenidze said: "We should find out first how big the fire is and how soon it will be extinguished, in order to assess the damage.

"But the railway is vital, not just for the Georgian economy but for the economies of neighbouring countries."

Russian troops withdraw from Georgian town of Senaki

Russian troops prepare to withdraw

Georgia's economic development minister accused Russian forces of having a hand in the blast, saying Moscow wanted to disrupt the energy corridor from the Caspian Sea to Europe that bypasses Russian territory.

Ekaterina Sharashidze said: "Georgia provides an alternative corridor for exporting oil and gas that is not controlled by Russia.

"(Russia) tried everything possible to make sure this corridor does not exist any more."

Russian troops left Gori, a key town in the Russia-Georgia conflict over breakaway South Ossetia, on Friday after a 10-day occupation.

The explosion occurred near an abandoned Georgian military base.

Russian forces pushed into Georgia this month after repelling a Georgian offensive to retake breakaway South Ossetia from pro-Moscow separatists.

Moscow has now pulled back most of its tanks and troops, but said it would maintain checkpoints in a buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia and in Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti.

A US Navy warship carrying humanitarian aid has anchored in the southern Georgian port of Batumi, bringing much-needed humanitarian aid to Georgia and sending a strong signal of support to an embattled ally.

The guided missile destroyer USS McFaul, loaded with 72 pallets of humanitarian aid, is the first in a series of five American ships scheduled to arrive this week.

The deputy chef of Russia's general staff has suggested that the arrival of the McFaul and other ships of Nato members  would increase tension in the Black Sea.

The USS McFaul anchors at Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi

The USS McFaul anchors at Batumi

Russia shares the sea with Nato members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Georgia and Ukraine, another ex-Soviet state whose pro-Western president also is leading a drive for Nato membership.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, will convene a special European summit on the crisis in Georgia, to be held on September 1.

Meanwhile, the leadership of South Ossetia has accused Georgia of massing troops near its border, Russian news agencies reported.

Irina Gagloeva, spokeswoman for the South Ossetian leadership, was quoted by Interfax as saying: "The Georgian side has begun a military build-up along the border in the Leningorsky district. There are military units and heavy equipment.

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Georgia: Train Explodes Near Gori


Georgia: Train Explodes Near Gori

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