Georgia – Bonfires were lit across Georgia overnight to mark a year since the former Soviet republic's five-day war with Russia over breakaway South Ossetia.
Pro-Western Georgia launched an assault on South Ossetia late on August 7 after days of clashes with separatists and years of escalating tension with Moscow, drawing a devastating Russian counter-strike that ended on August 12.
The war killed at least 390 civilians and at its height displaced some 190,000. A year on, an unfulfilled ceasefire pact and sporadic gunfire keep alive the risk of renewed hostilities.
Midnight bonfires in the Georgian capital and other towns marked the first in a series of competing ceremonies on Friday in the South Caucasus country and rebel South Ossetia.
Differing narratives of the war persist.
Russia and South Ossetia blame the aggression of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his U.S.-trained and equipped army, and say they fought to defend Russian peacekeepers and civilians holding Russian passports.
Georgians say it was an invasion years in the making by their giant northern neighbor and old Soviet master, punishment for turning West and seeking membership of NATO.
The war rattled Western confidence in oil and gas routes running through Georgia and skirting South Ossetia, which like the rebel Black Sea region of Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Georgians plan a human chain in the bombed town of Gori and South Ossetians will hold a candlelight vigil in the scarred rebel capital Tskhinvali.
Diplomats say the August 7 assault was a huge error of judgment by Georgia. Concentrated in the North Caucasus following annual military exercises, Russian tanks promptly rolled over the border and advanced into Georgia proper, routing the Georgian military. Jets bombed from clear summer skies.
It was horrible, said Tskhinvali resident Zaira Sanakoyeva. After any bombing or war, it's essential to reach agreement, and without a war we probably will, I hope.
Georgia's assault involved indiscriminate shelling of Tskhinvali, rights groups said, and militias followed in the wake of the Russian advance, looting and burning ethnic Georgian villages. Some 30,000 mainly ethnic Georgians remain displaced.
The West condemned Russia's counter-strike as disproportionate, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy scrambled to secure a ceasefire on behalf of the European Union.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states backed by thousands of Russian troops, despite the ceasefire requiring all sides to pull back to pre-war positions.
Today, Georgian police hold positions behind sandbags a few hundred meters (yards) from Tskhinvali, and Russian soldiers stand 50 km (30 miles) from Tbilisi at their nearest point.
Russia, arguing the case for sovereignty for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has blocked the continuation of OSCE and U.N. monitoring missions. The EU is alone with 240 monitors deployed after the war, but who are denied access to either rebel region.
(Additional reporting by Reuters Television in Tskhinvali)