Georgia president claims polls win

Early results give his ruling party 61 per cent of vote but opposition cries foul.

    Saakashvili, left, said even he was surprised at the winning margin [AFP]
    Opposition charges


    The numbers corresponded closely to results of an exit poll that had been immediately challenged by the opposition.


    Irakly Iashvili, an opposition coalition leader, called it a "total falsification".

    The opposition vowed to gather 100,000
    protesters but only 4,000 showed up [EPA]

    "We have never ever seen anything like this before in Georgian elections. But despite all those violations the opposition coalition still won," he said.


    Saakashvili's opponents are conducting their own count and allege violations in favour of the ruling party.


    The opposition, which claimed victory in the election 10 minutes before polls closed, said there had been massive vote rigging across the Caucasus country of 4.5 million.


    The West says the election is a test of Saakashvili's commitment to democracy as he steers the former Soviet republic towards the Nato military alliance, a policy that has riled giant neighbour Russia.


    Saakashvili said even he "was astonished by the big level of support which we got in these parliamentary elections" in recorded comments released before an address to the nation.


    He said his United National Movement party could get close to a constitutional majority, which is two thirds of the 150 seats, but added that the views of all political parties in the new parliament would be taken into account.


    Levan Gachechiladze, the opposition coalition leader, had said 100,000 people would gather on the streets to claim victory for the opposition, but the protest only attracted 4,000 in central Tbilisi, with some even watching a football game on a giant television before the rally.




    On Wednesday, a 20-minute shootout took place along the border between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia.


    The government blamed an attack on a busload
    of voters, on Abkhaz separatists [AFP]

    A bus full of voters was attacked and several civilians were injured while attempting to vote.


    The government blamed the attack on Abkhaz separatists. 


    The Central Election Commission said the vote was free and fair but Europe's leading election monitor said before polling that it had found cases of intimidation by state employees campaigning for Saakashvili's party and that television news was skewed in favour of the ruling party.


    The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the main Western election monitoring body, sent 550 observers to  monitor the vote and is to deliver a verdict on its conduct on Thursday.

    Nato, which has told Georgia that it can join the alliance in the future, has said it will also be watching to ensure the election is fair.


    'US experiment'


    Saakashvili swept to power in the peaceful 2003 "rose revolution", promising market reforms and a shift to re-orienting his country towards Europe and the United States.


    But the democratic credentials of the 40-year-old US-educated lawyer were badly tarnished when he sent riot troops to crush protests last November.


    He won a snap presidential election in January but critics said it was rigged.


    Many Georgians are unhappy with soaring prices for fuel and food while the opposition says Saakashvili has failed to tackle unemployment and high-level corruption remains rampant.


    The opposition, which broadly supports closer ties with the West and Nato, says Saakashvili's rhetoric about democracy masks intolerance of dissent.


    Gachechiladze, who once worked as one of Saakashvili's political advisers, said "the rose revolution and the democratic revolution is a farce - this was a US experiment".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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