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Bush says violence in Georgia is unacceptable

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush sharply criticized Moscow's harsh military crackdown in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, saying Monday that the violence is unacceptable and Russia's response is disproportionate.

The United States is waging an all-out campaign to press Russia to halt its retaliation against Georgia for trying to take control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

"I've expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn the bombing outside of South Ossetia," Bush said in an interview with NBC.

On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States."

Russia battled Georgian forces on land and sea, reports said late Sunday, despite a Georgian cease-fire offer and its claim to be withdrawing from South Ossetia.

U.S. officials said Moscow was only broadening its retaliation against Georgia for trying to take control of the region.

The sheer scope of Russia's military response has the Bush administration deeply worried. Russia on Sunday expanded its bombing blitz in areas of Georgia not central to the fighting.

‘Solidarity with the Georgian people’
Cheney spoke Sunday afternoon with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Cheney press secretary Lee Ann McBride said. "The vice president expressed the United States' solidarity with the Georgian people and their democratically elected government in the face of this threat to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," McBride said.

White House officials refused to indicate what recourse the United States might have if the military onslaught continues.

A Russian official said more than 2,000 people had been killed in South Ossetia since Friday; the figure could not be confirmed independently.

The president was to end his weeklong stay to Asia by attending a baseball game and other events Monday at the Beijing Olympics. The trip was meant mostly for fun and games — there have been plenty of both. But the fast-moving conflict in Georgia has commanded his attention.

Leaning on allies
Bush, pressing international mediation, reached out Sunday to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who heads the European Union. The two agreed on the need for a cease-fire and a respect for Georgia's integrity, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Georgia, whose troops have been trained by American soldiers, began an offensive to regain control over South Ossetia overnight Friday, launching heavy rocket and artillery fire and air strikes that pounded the provincial capital, Tskhinvali. In response, Russia launched overwhelming artillery shelling and air attacks on Georgian troops.

"We're alarmed by this entire situation, and every escalatory step is a further problem," deputy national security adviser Jim Jeffrey told reporters.

The U.S. military began flying 2,000 Georgian troops home from Iraq after Georgia recalled the soldiers following the outbreak of fighting with Russia. The decision was a timely payback for the former Soviet republic that has been a staunch U.S. supporter and agreed to send troops to Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition. Georgia was the third-largest contributor of coalition forces after the U.S. and Britain, and most of its troops were stationed near the Iranian border in southeastern Iraq.

Bush visits Chinese church
The risk of the conflict setting off a wider war increased when Russian-supported separatists in another breakaway region of Georgia, Abkhazia, launched air and artillery strikes on Georgian troops to drive them out of a small part of the province they control.

Also, Ukraine warned Russia it could bar Russian navy ships from returning to their base in the Crimea because of their deployment to Georgia's coast.

The White House sought to reassure that the administration — including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen — were talking to parties on both sides and trying for a diplomatic solution.

Bush also tended to relations with China, again raising raised concerns to President Hu Jintao about how the host of the summer Olympics treats its own people.

Bush worshipped at a Beijing church and declared China has nothing to fear from expressions of faith. The message had the added punch of coming on China's turf, as Bush has done before.

He managed time for a couple of marquee sporting events. With first lady Laura Bush, daughter Barbara and former President George H.W. Bush, he cheered from the stands of the Water Cube Olympic swimming venue. American Michael Phelps claimed the first of an expected string of gold medals by smashing his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley.