Georgia leader: We're on right track

Georgia Materials 7 January 2008 19:10 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - President Mikhail Saakashvili said Monday his re-election demonstrates that Georgia is on the road to becoming a European democracy.

Saturday's election, in which Saakashvili received 52.8 percent of the vote according to preliminary results, received a mixed evaluation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said it was a significant step for democracy while pointing to an array of violations.

Russia, which vies with the West for influence in Georgia, took a stronger stance, calling the election campaign "hardly free or fair."

Saakashvili narrowly cleared the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff election. His main opponent, businessman and lawmaker Levan Gachechiladze, received 27 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission.

The narrow victory underlined the deep divisions in Georgia. The OSCE criticism puts Saakashvili under pressure to bring true democracy to a country once seen as a paragon of reform in the former Soviet Union, and doubts could hurt Saakashvili's aims of bringing Georgia into both NATO and the European Union.

Addressing about 5,000 protesters on a snowy Tbilisi square, Gachechiladze said he finished first 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.

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