Tuesday, Jan 06, 2004
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By Vladimir Radyuhin
With ballot papers from a fourth of all election precincts counted so far, Mikhail Saakashvili, a 36-year-old lawyer and leader of the main Opposition bloc, won a whopping 95 per cent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. A phenomenon 83 per cent of Georgia's voters cast their ballots on Sunday in the fourth presidential election since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
However, the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia did not vote, and the turnout was a mere 25 per cent in Adjaria, another rebellious region.
Mr. Saakashvili spearheaded a peaceful "rose revolution" to overthrow the veteran leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, in November, with the United States playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the ouster. Washington has financed the presidential election and promised further economic aid to Georgia.
The electoral support Mr. Saahashvili received is largely linked to hopes generated by his promises to wage war on rampant corruption, rescue the bankrupt economy, bring the separatist territories back under control, and get Western aid.
Analysts recall that Georgians were equally enthusiastic when they elected their first post-Soviet President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in 1991 only to oust him in an armed revolt a year later, when they greeted the return of the Soviet-era leader, Shevardnadze, in 1992 and when they ousted him too six weeks ago.
Mr. Saakashvili said his priorities would include forging stronger ties with Europe and the United States and mending strained relations with neighbouring Russia.
"Establishing friendly relations with Russia will be one of the main priorities of Georgia's new leadership," he told a press conference in the capital Tbilisi.
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