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New President's Party Expected to Win in Georgia's Election - 2004-03-28

Georgians turned out at the polls for parliamentary elections expected to solidify the position of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power in the wake of last year's revolution.

Many voters said they came to the polls for the first time in years with the hope that their vote would translate into positive change for Georgia. Among them, one woman, who said it is important to vote to promote democratic and economic development.

Over the course of the day, an estimated 2.2 million voters will cast ballots in Georgia's re-run of its parliamentary elections. The first poll, last November, was annulled after weeks of street protests that culminated in the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

The leader of Georgia's Rose Revolution, Mikhail Saakashvili, was subsequently elected President and is hoping to solidify his power through Sunday's parliamentary elections. His pro-western National Movement-Democratic Front is expected to gain control of the parliament.

Mr. Saakashvili cast his vote in downtown Tbilisi, where onlookers gave him a bouquet of roses - the symbol of last year's revolution.

After voting, a smiling Mr. Saakashvili told a crowd of onlookers that the elections were important for Georgia, both at home and abroad.

Mr. Saakashvili said these elections will set the precedent for a new era of free and fair elections in Georgia. He said all the world is watching Georgia, and it must not disappoint.

Across town, the chief of Georgia's Central Election Commission, Zurab Chiaberashvili, told reporters that, overall, voting was proceeding briskly and without incident. But he says there were some problems in the autonomous province of Adjaria, as was widely feared.

Mr. Chiaberashvili said there are reports that unidentified persons tried to steal a ballot box in the province. But he says the box was later retrieved.

He also said that in Adjaria's regional capital, Batumi, there is word that some voters were prevented from voting due to harassment.

Adjaria's leader, Aslan Abashidze, accuses his opponents and the central government in Tbilisi of trying to provoke unrest in order to justify sending government troops to Adjaria to unseat him.

Observers say the legitimacy of the elections will largely be based on what happens in Adjaria - a flashpoint that has raised fears of a new separatist conflict in Georgia.