Georgian president elected amid protests

( AP ) - Thousands of Georgian opposition protesters denounced as fraudulent a presidential election that swept Mikhail Saakashvili to a second term, threatening instability in the former Soviet republic once considered a beacon of reform.

For the pro-Western Saakashvili, the prospect of unrest is an ironic echo of the mass demonstrations that swept him into office four years ago as a champion of democracy fighting rigged elections.

An observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave the election a mixed assessment, calling it a significant step for democracy while pointing to an array of violations. Russia, which vies with the West for influence in Georgia, sharply criticized the vote.

Saakashvili won nearly 53 percent of Saturday's vote - narrowly clearing the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff election - said Central Elections Commission head Levan Tarkhnishvili. His main challenger, Levan Gachechiladze, had 27 percent.

Saakashvili's slim victory Sunday underlined Georgia's deep divisions. His democratic credentials have been in question since police violently dispersed anti-government demonstrations in November and Saakashvili imposed a state of emergency that shut down an independent television station.

He defused the political crisis by calling the early presidential election, cutting short his own five-year term, clearly confident of winning a new mandate.

The OSCE'S criticism of the election puts Saakashvili under pressure to dispel doubts about his democratic intentions that could torpedo his efforts to bring Georgia into both NATO and the European Union.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat heading the OSCE mission, said it was unfair to be too critical of the election, describing it as only a step on Georgia's road to democracy.

"These people are just 16 years away from a level of repression that most Western countries theorize about and they lived," he said by telephone early Monday. "They didn't have a perfect election. They took a step."

Russia, which imposed an economic blockade on Georgia after repeated disputes with Saakashvili, was quick to criticize. "The election campaign can hardly be called 'free and fair'," the Russian Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

Moscow regards Georgia as part of its historical sphere of influence and resents Western aid to Georgia's military and the use of Georgia as a transit country for Caspian oil headed for Turkey.

Opposition leaders said the campaign was held under unfair conditions and claimed there were widespread violations during the vote.

Addressing about 5,000 protesters on a snowy Tbilisi square, Gachechiladze claimed he came first in the vote and called for a second round. He cited a tally by his supporters who served on election commissions across the country.

"Saakashvili lost, and it cannot happen that Georgia will not defend its freedom, that we won't win," said Gachechiladze, 43, a businessman and lawmaker.

Gachechiladze said the opposition will contest the election results in court. He called for another protest Tuesday.

On Monday, Georgians will be celebrating Orthodox Christmas, raising the possibility that tensions will ease before the opposition returns to the streets.

Nino Burdzhanadze, the parliament speaker who served as acting president during the campaign, expressed confidence that the opposition would not muster enough support for mass protests. "I think there will be no serious support for opposition rallies after a few days," she said.

She conceded there were some violations, but said her government welcomed the criticism from foreign observers and will seek to correct the mistakes in future elections.

"As a whole the elections were free and fair and democratic," Burdzhanadze told The Associated Press. "You should take into account that Georgia is a new democracy."

During his four years in office, Saakashvili, 40, has cracked down on organized crime and corruption, modernized the police force and the army, restored steady supplies of electricity and gas, and improved roads. The result has been annual economic growth of about 10 percent and a steady rise in foreign investment.

But he has been accused of being intolerant of dissent, and in the final days of the campaign, he made a point of reaching out to his opponents.

The OSCE report cited a blurring of government activities and Saakashvili's campaign, including the distribution of vouchers for utilities and medical supplies.

"The president has not behaved like a mature democrat and many feel that he bought votes with promises and benefits," Swedish observer Birgitta Ohlsson was quoted by the newspaper Dagens Nyheter as saying. "We regard this with anxiety."

The observers' report said there were cases of multiple voting, and that ballot counting was very slow in most polling stations they visited while basic procedures were often not followed.

Turkey's export to Turkic-speaking countries up
Turkey's export to Turkic-speaking countries up
Kyrgyz ambassador and Secretary of Senate of Pakistan discuss inter-parliamentary cooperation
Kyrgyz ambassador and Secretary of Senate of Pakistan discuss inter-parliamentary cooperation
Value of OIC states' import from Turkey shows decline
Value of OIC states' import from Turkey shows decline
Loading Bars
Latest
OSCE MG Co-Chairs welcome cessation of activities in area of Karabakh conflict
Kazakhstan sees increase in registration of newly-purchased cars
Azerbaijani, Turkish FMs exchange views on meeting of OSCE Ministerial Council
Metallurgical plant built with Russia’s support to be launched in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan Railways JSC to increase authorized capital
Russia hopes UNESCO mission to arrive soon in Nagorno-Karabakh region
Georgian state flour subsidy program to maintain stable prices for bread
Foreign trade grows between Russia’s Udmurtia, Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan’s Energy Ministry eyes studying Rothschild & Co experience in entering IPO
Azerbaijan raises cargo exports in value terms
National Bank of Georgia sells funds at foreign exchange auction to stabilize lari
Korean government donates glove boxes to Azerbaijan for COVID-19 examination (PHOTO)
Public to be provided with detailed information about martyrs - Azerbaijani MoD
Georgia continuing efforts to diversify production and promoting use of renewable energy
Number of projects to be implemented at Angren FEZ in Uzbekistan revealed
Prospects for expanding capabilities of Southern Gas Corridor discussed
Kazakhstan looking for co-op opportunities with Northern European countries despite COVID-19
Coronavirus adversely affects activities of Georgian JB Group
Uzbekistan, Turkey discuss creation of industrial zone in Tashkent
Productivity of Azerbaijani liberated lands to be assessed
Baku Metro opens tender to attract renovation, installation services
Ceyhan terminal’s oil transshipment from ACG exceeds 195 million barrels
OSCE potential in settlement of conflicts remains in demand – Russian FM
Crude oil shipments decrease at Kazakhstan's Marine Terminal of CPC
Karabakh agreement can positively influence Turkish-Armenian relations - Mevlut Cavusoglu
Azerbaijan records annual growth in lending to agricultural sector
Uzbek-Korean JV opens tender for gas purchase
Patriotic War Memorial Complex and Victory Museum to be established in Baku
Khazar Consortium opens tender for maintenance, repair of office equipment in Turkmenistan
We are entering new post-conflict stage of reconstruction, rehabilitation - Azerbaijani FM
President Ilham Aliyev signs order on commemoration of Patriotic War martyrs
SOCAR’s share in Azerbaijan’s natural gas output down
Anti-Azerbaijani efforts of Armenian diaspora and pro-Armenian forces fail
Georgia sees increase in public debt
Georgian restaurants ask for benefits and salary compensation
Lithuanian company talks on new payment device for Azerbaijani market
Georgian E-Space to attract partners for developing network of charging stations
SOCAR sees increase in proven gas and condensate reserves
Georgian bread company plans to expand its business
Iran's power production capacity increases
Employment in Iran's Kurdistan Province increases
Azerbaijan confirms 4,189 new COVID-19 cases, 2,072 recoveries
Azerbaijani banks' demand for foreign currency declines
Commandants appointed for liberated Lachin, Kalbajar districts of Azerbaijan
Turkish FM talks regional benefits of trilateral agreement on Karabakh
Bahar Azadi gold coin price again falling in Iran
Assets of Uzbek commercial banks increase over 10M2020
Greece extends nationwide lockdown by a week, to Dec. 14
Most of Azerbaijani goods' exports via Single Window system falls on air transportation
Number of enterprises launched in Iran's Qom Province up
Demand for Azerbaijani commercial banks grows year on year
SOCAR’s 2019 oil output exceeds forecasts
Date of Turkish president's visit to Azerbaijan disclosed
OSCE chairman-in-office welcomes cessation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh region
Defense Ministry discloses number of missing Azerbaijani servicemen and currently under medical treatment
Number of people infected with coronavirus pandemic in Iran exceeds 1 million
Turkmenistan cuts imports of cars from Turkey
Azerbaijan discloses number of its servicemen killed in second Karabakh war
Azerbaijan lowers cement imports from Turkey
Iran's trade turnover with some Central Asian countries revealed
Trilateral statement of Nov. 10 ends nearly 30-year occupation of Azerbaijani lands - FM
Growth pace of both lari and foreign currency deposits slows down in Georgia
Azerbaijan reveals latest data on exports and imports of finished textile products
Iran inaugurates new power projects
Association of electrotechnical enterprises to increase production in Uzbekistan
Iran declares amount of money paid to tea farmers
Kazakhstan discusses measures to improve national economy with UNDP
SOCAR’s proven oil reserves down y-o-y
Azerbaijan creates service post, appoints inspectors in liberated Sugovushan, Talish villages (PHOTO)
Azerbaijan to solemnly celebrate Victory Day every year on Nov. 8
Lari exchange rate and pandemic impact electricity tariffs in Georgia
Turkey's export to Turkic-speaking countries up
Expenses on construction of enterprises decline in Iran’s Qazvin province
Iran plans changes to law for citizens paying tax upon leaving country
Food products jump in price in Kazakhstan in Nov. 2020
Azerbaijan shows video footages from Husulu, Malibey villages of Lachin district (VIDEO)
Iran’s Wagon Pars Company discloses number of manufactured wagons
Azerbaijan records growth in life insurance market
Global Gas Centre can help promote Turkmen gas in Central Asia, Europe
Export of major Azerbaijani non-oil companies down
Turkey records decline in exports of locally-made cars to Russia
State share in number of Uzbekistan’s markets, shopping complexes to be sold to private traders
Georgia sees increase in COVID-19 cases
Geostat reveals inflation rate in Georgia
Azerbaijani companies raise paid insurance claims in 10M2020
Turkish president to visit Azerbaijan
Gold price in Azerbaijan continues to rise
Azerbaijani Defense Minister meets with commander of Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in Karabakh region
Restrictive measures related to coronavirus extended in Turkmenistan
Iran's trade turnover with countries around Persian Gulf announced
Kazakhstan, Hungary trade surges despite COVID-19 pandemic
Turkmenistan, Iran open border crossing in test mode
Daimler proposes ex-BMW and VW executive Pischetsrieder as chairman
Volume of non-life insurance market in Azerbaijan increases
Uzbekistan to continue support of hospitality sector
Iran's parliament discuses idea of withdrawal from Non-Proliferation Treaty
Khankandi city belongs to jurisdiction of Karabakh Regional Justice Department - ministry
Value of Iran’s exports to Russia increases
Iran reveals its trade turnover with Azerbaijan
AccessBank has been named "Bank of the Year" by “The Banker” magazine
All news