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Thousands Protest Election Results in Georgia - 2003-11-08

About 10,000 demonstrators marched in the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Saturday to protest the results of last week's controversial parliamentary election. The demonstration came as the vote count continued slowly.

The protesters marched on the main government building in the capital, Tbilisi, claiming the results of the election were falsified.

The march was organized by key opposition leaders despite a call for calm Friday night from Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze.

The demonstrators demanded that the government fire regional governors who allegedly promoted fraud, and to schedule a new vote.

Many in the crowd also called on Mr. Shevardnadze to resign, blaming him for the country's long economic decline.

There were fears of violence after armed men fired shots at a rally in another city on Friday night, and police were out in force throughout Tbilisi.

As the march took place the Central Election Commission said that with almost 80 percent of the vote counted, the Revival opposition group held a narrow lead over the pro-Shevardnadze group, with around 20 percent each.

But Revival is a regional party that other opposition groups say made a pact with the government in order to steal the election.

The main opposition group, the National Movement, was in third place. But the National Movement's leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, said his group would be in the lead if the election had not been rigged.

International observers said the election was deeply flawed, and the United States has strongly criticized Mr. Shevardnadze's government.

The Georgian president is well known for his role in helping end the Cold War when he served as Soviet foreign minister under then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.

Mr. Shevardnadze is also credited with restoring order in Georgia a decade ago when the country was wracked by civil uprisings.

But in recent years Mr. Shevardnadze's star has fallen, and he is widely disliked within Georgia.