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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Georgian region backs president
By Chloe Arnold
BBC correspondent in Batumi

Ajaria's leader Aslan Abashidze
Abashidze ran the region like a medieval fiefdom
With much of the vote counted in an election in Georgia's Ajaria region, the party of the Georgian president appears to have swept to victory.

Six weeks ago Mikhail Saakashvili helped lead a peaceful uprising in the Black Sea province against the widely despised leader, Aslan Abashidze.

Mr Abashidze was forced to step aside and flee the country.

Bringing in the ballot papers for counting is a time-consuming process in this mountainous region.

Some are being driven to the central election commission by car. Others are being flown in by helicopter.

A final result won't be announced for up to 18 days, but already one thing is clear.

The party of the country's young and charismatic president, Mr Saakashvili, appears to have swept the board and no wonder, Ajarians say.

Fiefdom

They see him as the hero of the peaceful uprising last month that saw the overthrow of Mr Abashidze, who ran Ajaria like a medieval fiefdom.

He locked up members of the opposition, employed a private army and refused to obey central rule.

But after growing calls from the Georgian government, the international community and his own people to step aside, Mr Abashidze fled to Moscow and hasn't set foot in the region since.

Ajarians say Sunday's election here was the first democratic vote anyone can remember.

Western governments who have backed the construction of a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline in the region have been watching events closely.

Batumi boasts a vast sea terminal which despatches millions of barrels of Caspian Sea oil to the international market.


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