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US Urges Georgia Political Factions to Remain Calm - 2003-11-03

The United States is urging political factions in Georgia to maintain calm in the aftermath of parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by shortcomings. The State Department gave a mixed assessment of the election.

Officials here are declining to comment on the outcome of the Georgia voting until the final returns are in. But they say there were both advances and shortcomings in the conduct of the closely-watched parliamentary voting, a prelude to a critical presidential election in 2005.

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli urged all concerned parties in Georgia to refrain from the threat or use of violence in the wake of the election and to continue working to assure that the final vote count is "transparent and fair."

The spokesman said U.S. diplomats who monitored the voting Sunday agreed with observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that confusion over voter-eligibility marred the process, but that there were none-the-less elements of progress. "We agree with the preliminary OSCE assessment that inaccuracies in the voter list lessened voter confidence in the election process that may have disenfranchised a large number of otherwise eligible voters. On the positive side, we also note that the OSCE recognized that certain aspects of the election demonstrated significant progress, notably the passage of the unified election code, and the transparency of the new central election commission," he said.

Mr. Ereli said the United States, in partnership with the OSCE, the United Nations and other friends of Georgia, will maintain its support for democracy in the former Soviet republic as it prepares to install a new parliament and looks forward to the presidential elections in 2005.

The presidential vote will be a political watershed for Georgia since President Eduard Shevardnadze, who has dominated political life in the country since its independence 12 years ago, will not be eligible for re-election.

Opposition parties complained of wide-spread irregularities in Sunday's voting. The OSCE observer mission said many voters were turned away when polling stations failed to open on time, or their names did not appear on registration lists.

Mr. Shevardnadze Monday acknowledged problems, but said the election overall was free and fair.