TBILISI (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters rallied in the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Saturday to back opposition calls for a re-run of the Oct. 31 parliamentary election they say was rigged.
According to official results, the ruling Georgian Dream party won 48.23% of the vote, with the largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), taking 27.18%.
Yet the opposition accuses Georgian Dream and its supporters of vote buying, making threats against voters and observers, and of violations during the count. Eight opposition parties including the UNM have said they would boycott parliament.
Georgian Dream leaders have denied the accusations.
The opposition is demanding the resignation of Tamar Zhvania, head of the Central Election Commission, and the holding of fresh elections.
“We will fight till the end and won’t allow our country to be governed by an oligarch,” Gigi Ugulava, an opposition leader, told thousands of protesters, referring to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the ruling party head and the country’s wealthiest man.
Critics say Ivanishvili, who does not hold a government post, runs the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people from behind the scenes, an accusation denied by Georgian Dream, which has governed for two consecutive terms.
The protest, held on the capital’s main Rustaveli avenue, took place days before a planned visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We will send this message to the U.S. secretary of state that elections have been rigged,” Ugulava said.
Pompeo’s visit is set for Nov. 17-18.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by David Holmes)