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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 13:41 GMT
Georgia poll manipulation feared
Tbilisi bus with image of President Mikhail Saakashvili
President Saakashvili faced huge street protests in November
The main opposition candidate in Georgia's snap presidential election has accused the authorities of preparing to rig Saturday's vote.

"What is currently happening in Georgia is not a free election," Levan Gachechiladze said in a statement broadcast on Georgian television.

Mr Gachechiladze, who represents nine opposition groups, urged his supporters to be vigilant at polling stations.

The authorities insist the vote will be free and fair.

Hundreds of foreign observers will be monitoring the vote.

President Mikhail Saakashvili set the election for 5 January, after huge opposition protests in November. He imposed a state of emergency that lasted nine days.

During the emergency, the authorities temporarily shut down Imedi TV, the main outlet for opposition views.

A BBC correspondent in the capital, Tbilisi, says Mr Saakashvili has run a well-funded election campaign, while other candidates have been much less visible.

Mr Gachechiladze complained that "we cannot use media outlets or promotional means".

He added that a "smear campaign" was being staged against the opposition in the media.

President Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer, came to power after street protests in 2003, nicknamed the Rose Revolution.

His first term as president has seen Georgia strengthen its ties with Nato while relations with Moscow have soured.

Opposition groups accuse him of authoritarian tendencies and a failure to tackle large-scale social deprivation in Georgia.

The challenges facing President Mikhail Saakashvili

Q&A: Georgian election
04 Jan 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
27 Nov 07 |  Country profiles
Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
08 Nov 07 |  Europe

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