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Georgia's Saakashvili claims victory in key elections amid dispute with Russia

Georgia's Saakashvili claims victory in key elections amid dispute with Russia

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed victory in municipal elections seen as a key test of his pro-Western government's popularity amid a spiraling confrontation with neighboring Russia.
"The whole world watched us, and our society passed its test with flying colors," Saakashvili told supporters at his party's headquarters late Thursday.
We conducted democratic elections.... And I want to say that we conducted clean elections despite our opponents' pouring dirt on us," he said.
Saakashvili cited exit polls reported by Georgian television which said his United National Movement party was ahead with around 56 percent of the vote, followed by the joint opposition Republican-Conservative bloc with 8.1 percent.
The exit poll methodology could not immediately be verified. Preliminary results from the Central Election Commission were expected Friday morning.
Nearly three years after the Rose Revolution protests propelled him to power, the U.S.-educated Saakashvili faces an electorate increasingly disenchanted and impatient with the slow pace of economic reforms.
A week after Georgia's arrest of four Russian military officers on spying charges sent relations with Moscow plummeting, the crisis has prompted stern responses from Russia, which could have a severe economic fallout in the poor Caucasus Mountain nation.
Moscow suspended air, sea, road, rail and postal links with its southern neighbor on Tuesday, paralyzing trade with economically dependent Georgia. On Thursday, Moscow said it would abolish quotas allowing a certain number of Georgians each year to obtain residency and work permits. Several Georgian-run casinos and restaurants in Moscow have been raided and closed down for alleged regulatory violations.
"Russia does not want to be provoked, Russia wants to be respected. Russia wants the anti-Russian campaign to stop," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko told reporters in Moscow.
On Friday, two Russian planes were to transport to Moscow 180 Russians who were stranded in Georgia by the transport blockade.
The Russian daily Kommersant, meanwhile, reported that police in Moscow were asking schools to compile lists of children studying there with Georgian surnames in a drive to uncover illegal migrants.
Up to a million Georgians live in Russia according to some estimates and send home hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) every year to their families.
The dispute with Russia has fanned nationalism in Georgia. However, bread-and-butter issues like the rising cost of living and persistent corruption may ultimately determine how much support Saakashvili has in his drive to modernize the country and integrate with the West.
Georgians were choosing more than 1,700 members of municipal and regional councils that will in turn elect mayors and administration heads. The highest regional posts _ envoys _ are appointed by the president.
Local government bodies are currently dominated by Saakashvili's party, but the opposition Labor party was pushing strong for the mayorship of Tbilisi _ the country's second most prominent political post. Labor party head Shalva Natelashvili hopes to unseat Saakashvili ally Gigi Ugulava, running for the United National Movement.
The Labor and Conservative parties are counting on voters to react to the sharp increase in the cost of living following the 2003 Rose Revolution that toppled then President Eduard Shevardnadze. Meat prices have doubled, the prices for grains and sugar have risen by about 20 percent, and electricity and gas costs have likewise risen _ a factor in the slide in Saakashvili's popularity, according to polls.
The single pro-Russian party, other than the Communists, was not running. Twelve leaders of the Justice Party and its allies were arrested last month and face charges of plotting a coup.
Russia's chilly relations with Georgia have worsened steadily since Saakashvili came to power, vowing to take the country out of Russia's orbit, rein in breakaway provinces and join NATO. Georgia accuses Russia of backing the separatists, which Russia denies.


Updated : 2021-08-05 19:01 GMT+08:00