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Georgian Elections 'Compromised by Fraud', says Security Official - 2003-11-21

The top security official in Georgia says this month's parliamentary elections were, in his words, "compromised by fraud," and a new election should be held. The official also warned there could be violence between pro- and anti-government demonstrators.

In a surprise statement, the head of Georgia's Security Council, Tedo Dzhaparidze, said irregularities in the parliamentary election were great enough that there should be a new election. He said the new parliament should convene as scheduled on Saturday, but only in a temporary capacity, until a new election can be held.

Mr. Dzhaparidze also warned that Georgia faces "a real danger of bloodshed," as thousands of people gather in the capital city, Tbilisi. Some are supporters of President Eduard Shevardnadze, but most are there to demand his resignation and block the new parliament from meeting.

Government supporters from the regional Revival Party have vowed to halt what they say are "anti-constitutional moves" to interfere with the parliament, setting the stage for a showdown, after nearly three weeks of street protests.

President Shevardnadze announced the parliament would meet after the official results of the November 2 election were released on Thursday, showing the main government party had won the election with around 21 percent of the vote.

The Revival Party came in second with about 19 percent, while the leading opposition National Movement party was third with 18 percent.

National Movement's leader Mikhail Saakashvili denounced the results, saying they prove that the government rigged the election.

Other government officials, including President Shevardnadze himself, have admitted there were irregularities in the election. But they have argued that the problems were not serious enough to change the overall outcome.

Pre-election public opinion polls indicated the opposition would win.

The United States has also said the election was flawed, describing the official outcome as the result of "mass manipulation" by Georgian election officials.