Hunger strike vow as Saakashvili is declared victor in Georgian poll

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The Independent Online

Opposition activists vowed to go on hunger strike to demand a second round of voting as President Mikheil Saakashvili was declared the winner of Georgia's presidential poll yesterday.

The head of Georgia's Central Election Committee said that the number of ballots from polling stations yet to return results was not enough to push Mr Saakashvili below the 50 per cent barrier, which he needs to surpass to avoid a second round. With around 99 per cent of votes counted, Mr Saakashvili, who has led the country since the 2003 rose revolution, had more than 52 per cent.

"We won the election, but the results have been falsified," Levan Gachechiladze told a crowd who had gathered outside television studios to demand airtime for the opposition to broadcast its complaints. Mr Gachechiladze was backed by a nine-party coalition, and came in second place with around 25 per cent of the vote. In the capital Tbilisi, he won around 40 per cent, more than Mr Saakashvili.

The opposition have alleged systematic violations in Saturday's election, despite international observers saying that the vote was largely free. Nevertheless, support for continuing protests appeared to be on the wane. Unlike on Sunday, when thousands took to the streets of Tbilisi, this time only a few hundred showed up, suggesting that support for a renewed confrontation with the government might be dissipating.

Still, the opposition has promised further protests for Sunday, and while Mr Gachechiladze has rescinded his own pledge to go on hunger strike, his brother and other supporters have said they will.

Analysts say that the controversial manner of victory will force Mr Saakashvili to adopt a more measured and consultative style of government. He said in a televised interview that he wanted to be "the president of the entire Georgia and not just of one party or group" and pledged to invite opposition figures into his cabinet.

The opposition was sceptical about the offer. "If Saakashvili really wants to take a step towards his people and the opposition, he should agree to a vote recount in order to legalise the election result," said Kakha Kukava, an MP from the opposition coalition.

But it seems the comp-laints are falling on deaf ears, as plans are under way for Mr Saakashvili's inauguration on 20 January. He promised to invite the Russian President Vladimir Putin and said he would start rebuilding Russian-Georgian relations "from scratch". The countries have been engaged in a bitter dispute as Russia is unhappy over Mr Saakashvili's drive to push Georgia towards Nato and the EU.

Meanwhile, Irakli Okruashvili, the man who sparked the crisis that led to early elections, was transferred from a German to a French prison yesterday. The opposition leader made a series of corruption and misgovernment allegations against Mr Saakashvili on Georgian television last September. The authorities hit back with corruption allegations of their own and he fled to Europe. He was first detained in November. The French will now decide whether to grant him political asylum.

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