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News Briefs

In Heat Of Campaign, McCain Asserts His Independent Streak

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

From television advertisements to vice presidential oratory, the Republican attack against Sen. John Kerry this week has been sharp, unsparing and unified: The Democratic candidate is “wrong on defense.” On Thursday, one Republican senator’s response was just as sharp and unsparing, but much less unified: “No, I do not believe that he is, quote, weak on defense.”

What kind of Republican would say that? The John McCain kind, of course.

Last week, McCain’s polite but impolitic admission that he would “entertain” an offer to be Kerry’s running mate provided a good day’s entertainment for the capital’s chattering classes (until he ruled it out).

Now, his defense of Kerry, a friend and fellow Vietnam veteran, shows once again how McCain’s incorrigible independent streak and ill-disguised distance from President Bush make him one of Washington’s most unpredictable -- and unavoidable -- men.

“Apparently, you can’t be friends anymore with somebody who is of a different party,” McCain said in a telephone interview from Arizona this week. “I choose my friends on whether they’re entertaining, they’re interesting to be around, and whether they’re good and decent people. Now, with this polarization that’s going on, where both parties are running to their base, that kind of behavior is nearly unacceptable.”

Georgian President Wins Concession; Ends Blockade

The New York Times -- TBILISI, Georgia

President Mikhail Saakashvili said Thursday that he had won important concessions from the leader of the renegade province of Adzharia and would lift a four-day-old economic blockade.

“The sanctions will be lifted from midnight tonight because we have resolved all the issues which led to this misunderstanding between the local administration and the Georgian government,” he said after meeting with the leader, Aslan Abashidze, in the provincial capital, Batumi.

“I want to underline that there is no conflict with Adzharia, and such a conflict cannot be,” Saakashvili said.

The deal defuses a crisis that was touched off Sunday when armed men supporting Abashidze refused to allow the president to enter Adzharia.

Saakashvili placed Georgian troops on alert. Abashidze declared a state of emergency in his fiefdom and sent armed men into the streets.

The standoff threatened to have international repercussions as officials from Russia, which has a military base in Adzharia, expressed support for Abashidze.