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Georgian human rights chief says presidential election rigged

Georgia's human rights commissioner said on Wednesday that Saturday's presidential polls, at which Mikheil Saakashvili was re-elected, were marred by large-scale ballot fraud.

"The elections were falsified. All international organizations noted this. Administrative resources were used to a great extent, and this must be rectified by the next election," Sozar Subari told journalists.

However, he said that the South Caucasus country has a high level of political awareness. While in the past candidates have gained runaway victories of 70-90%, the more reasonable result this time round means that "the Georgian people are the masters of their fate."

The head of Georgia's Central Election Commission confirmed earlier today that U.S.-educated Saakashvili had won the election, with almost all votes counted.

According to the commission's results from 3,482 out of 3,512 polling stations in Georgia and abroad, Saakashvili received 52.21% of the vote, and his top rival, united opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, gained 25.6%.

Businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili garnered 6.99%, Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili 6.42%, and New Rightist leader David Gamkrelidze 4.02%. Other candidates gained less than 1%.

Gachechiladze called the election rigged, and has demanded a second round of polls, and air time on Georgian television. He also said he would go on a hunger strike.

The nine parties forming the united opposition said earlier today they would hold a large-scale rally in central Tbilisi on Sunday to demand a second round of voting. Parties outside the coalition are likely to join the rally.

Washington has hailed what it called "the country's first genuinely competitive presidential election" despite "serious problems." However, observers from the International Expert Center for Electoral Systems said the Georgian elections ran counter to international election laws, and refused to recognize them as transparent.

National media said Monday election authorities had received about 450 complaints over alleged violations.

The Mze television channel quoted Matthew Bryza, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, as saying that specific violations should be investigated.

The Georgian election commission must publish the final results within 10 days following voting, which is the legal deadline for complaints to be considered.

Around 2 million voters took part in the early elections in the country, which followed mass opposition protests in November 2007.

Saakashvili received 97% of the vote in the previous presidential election in 2004.

RIA Novosti

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