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US Concerned About Georgia's Parliamentary Election Count - 2003-11-04

The United States has expressed concern Tuesday about the ballot-counting process in Georgia after parliamentary voting Sunday that international observers say was marred by shortcomings.

The State Department, which complained Monday about inaccurate voting lists, says U.S. diplomats intervened with Georgian authorities after the ballot-counting process was inexplicably halted overnight.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said that after the diplomatic protest over what he described as an "irregular" procedure, the vote-count was resumed, and the United States is focussing efforts now on assuring "an honest count in a timely way."

In its initial remarks on the key election Monday, the State Department said voter list inaccuracies had lessened public confidence in the election process and may have disenfranchised a large number of otherwise eligible voters.

But it also said some aspects of the process demonstrated significant progress from past elections, in the former Soviet republic, including the approval of a new election code and the transparency of a new central election commission.

The mixed U.S. assessment seemed at odds with that of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose chief monitor spoke Monday of "spectacular" failures in the conduct of the election.

Asked about the seeming disparity, spokesman Ereli said a full assessment cannot be made until the entire process is completed.

"We've seen the OSCE statements," he said. "We have some of the same concerns as the OSCE. This is a process... this election and its aftermath are still being worked out. Let's let the process work its way through and makes a considered judgment based on what actually happens, both in the last few days and in the next few days."

Thousands of people have taken part in protests of alleged vote-rigging in Tbilisi and Georgian opposition party leaders are threatening to boycott the election results if the government does not allow transparency in the vote count.

President Eduard Shevardnadze, the country's leader since independence 12 years ago, has acknowledged some problems in the election but says the process overall was free and fair.

Sunday's parliamentary voting was a key prelude to a presidential election in 2005, in which Mr. Shevardnadze is barred by law from seeking another term.