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Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 14:52 UK

Georgian leader set for poll win

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili votes 21/05/08
President Mikhail Saakashvili urged Georgians to stay united

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says he is confident of victory for his ruling party in parliamentary polls.

Early official results indicate his United National Movement has 63% of the vote to the opposition's 13%, closely mirroring earlier exit polls.

Opposition supporters gathered in the capital Tbilisi for a late night protest, saying the vote was rigged, but numbers fell short of expectations.

International observers have described the poll as "uneven and incomplete".

In a statement the team from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that: "Political stakeholders... made efforts to conduct yesterday's parliamentary election in line with international standards but a number of problems were identified which made their implementation uneven and incomplete".

The observers said that overall the election day was "calm and generally assessed positively" but that there " were numerous allegations of intimidation some of which could be verified".

The vote is being seen as a test of Georgia's commitment to democracy.

It took place amid fears of political unrest, and rising tensions between Georgia and Russia.

'Different picture'

"Even I was astonished by the big level of support which we got in these parliamentary elections," Mr Saakashvili said in comments quoted by Reuters.

"There are no final figures yet but there is a very high probability that the National Movement will get the number of seats in parliament that would be close to a constitutional majority."

Opposition supporters in Tbilisi 21/05/08
Opposition supporters gathered to protest, but not in great numbers

Two-thirds of the parliament's 150 seats are needed for a constitutional majority under Georgian law.

The Central Election Commission has so far released results for about a quarter of the 3,664 precincts.

They suggested that as well as the two main parties, the Christian Democrats and the Labour Party would also win enough votes to take seats in parliament.

Soon after polls closed, leaders of the main opposition coalition were saying the vote had been rigged.

"There was total falsification, especially in the regions," said Georgy Gamkrelidze, a leader of the United Opposition Council.

"According to our data, the picture is totally different," he told Associated Press news agency.

The opposition called for protests in Tbilisi late on Wednesday night, saying tens of thousands would gather, but only about 1,000 people showed up.

The opposition's own partial results for the vote in Tbilisi were released, indicating the United Opposition had more than 40% and the United National Movement took 32%.

Protesters then watched live coverage of the Champions League final in Moscow between English teams Manchester United and Chelsea.

The opposition largely shares President Saakashvili's pro-Western leanings but say he has failed to tackle unemployment and corruption.

They are also angry about riot police being sent in to break up opposition protests last year and say the government has taken on authoritarian tendencies under President Saakashvili.

Acts of violence

Election day was marred by incidents of violence in or near the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

A bus carrying voters came under fire, leaving several people injured and sparking a gun battle that lasted for 20 minutes, witnesses said. The government blamed Abkhaz separatists.

BBC map showing Georgia and its breakaway regions

The opposition also said one of its activists was killed in a district bordering Abkhazia as he went out to vote.

"He was shot with a hunting rifle... We do not know who killed him but we demand an immediate investigation," said opposition leader David Gamkrelidze.

But the government says the killing was the result of a domestic dispute and was not politically motivated.

Abkhazia is at the heart of heightened tensions with Russia.

Moscow accuses Georgia of preparing to invade Abkhazia, where many residents hold Russian passports. Georgia says Russia is preparing to annex the region.


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SEE ALSO
Q&A: Georgian election
06 Jan 08 |  Europe
Profile: Mikhail Saakashvili
06 Jan 08 |  Europe


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