( dpa ) - Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili secured re-election Wednesday according to official vote counts vehemently rejected by the opposition, which vows to continue its ongoing protest.
With barely two per cent of the vote left to tally, the election commission website showed Wednesday that Saakashvili led decisively with 52.21 per cent, narrowly avoiding a run-off vote.
But his nearest challenger Levan Ganchechiladze, who gathered 25.26 per cent of the vote, refused to accept defeat in the first round, declaring, "I won't stop until you murder me!"
Ganchechiladze's brother, a pop singer, began a hunger strike with other supporters on Wednesday, news agency Itar-tass reported.
Ganchechiladze said Wednesday he was "saving his strength" for the second of daily pickets at Georgia's public television station until he was offered a voice on air.
In a late-night broadcast on Rustavi-TV Tuesday, Saakashvili took a conciliatory line, saying his future cabinet would be "much more all-inclusive."
"No one can ignore the opinions of those who didn't vote for us," Saakashvili said, adding he was ready to compromise with opponents.
Saakashvili called a snap election to counter criticism over police crackdowns on opposition protests in November, but Wednesday's results were in sharp contrast to his soaring ratings after Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution.
Despite some reservations, European election observers gave the vote a clean bill of health, corroborated by the United States, which counts Georgia an ally in Iraq and has been generous with foreign aid.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, long courted by Saakashvili for membership, said Wednesday the vote represented "an important step in the democratic development of Georgia."
"Nevertheless, all irregularities ascertained by the international observers should be cleared before the parliamentary elections planned in the spring," NATO speaker James Appathurai said in Brussels.
Moscow, which is vying with Washington for influence in Georgia, sharply criticized the vote and the evaluations of Western observers.
In television comments Saakashvili promised to invite President Vladimir Putin to his inauguration in a move to mend relations with Russia, which opposes his pro-Western stance as well as moves to reintegrate Georgia's breakaway regions bordering Russia.
The mountainous Caucus republic is of growing strategic importance lying across oil pipelines to Europe and close to Iraq, and the vivid protest by the opposition coalition of nine parties has raised fear of prolonged instability.
Addressing Saakashvili, Ganchechiladze said: "I am willing to sacrifice my life in order to defeat you."
On Tuesday, Ganchechiladze led a group of protestors that burst into Georgia's election commission offices. Russian television showed him brandishing allegedly spoiled ballot papers and accusing Tarknishvili: You're guilty of falsifying the election. You've stolen half a million votes."
Tarknishvili brushed off the accusations as "groundless."
The election chief's early announcement of Saakashvili's win after Saturday's vote sparked a 7,000-strong protest in the capital Tbilisi.
The nine-party opposition coalition on Wednesday promised a law suit and larger demonstrations from January 13 to 18, threatening a repeat of the November unrest which caused Saakashvili to impose emergency rule.