Georgian opposition fears election fraud

Several hundred opposition supporters have gathered in the centre of the Georgian capital Tbilisi to warn the authorities against election fraud. The rally is being organised by the Labour Party and has been sanctioned by the city's authorities.

Labour Candidate Shalva Natelashvili said the government needed to listen to the concerns of the people.

“President Saakashvili and the rest of the world should see that if the election is fraudulent, these people will not let the dictator get back into power,” Natelashvili said.  

The Labour party was part of the coalition that organized massive anti-government protests in Tbilisi in early November. Later it split with the coalition so its leader could run for the presidency alone.

Deadline for candidates

Meanwhile, Wednesday is the deadline for applicants wanting to run in the presidential election on January 5.  Would-be candidates must submit at least 50,000 signatures endorsing their candidacy.

The signatures will be checked by the Central Electoral Commission before announcing a final list of presidential candidates in a week's time.

Former president Mikhail Saakashvili, favourite to win the January 5 poll, was the first to hand over his signatures to the Commission. His supporters have gathered a massive 140,000 signatures.

“Today we presented the signatures of Mikhail Saakashvili's supporters – more than 140,000. According to our legislation, the necessary number is only 50,000, so it means that Mikhail Saakashvili has great support in Georgia,” said Gigi Tsereteli, a Saakashvili supporter and member of the Georgian Parliament.

Saakashvili's main rival is the candidate from the united opposition, Levan Gachechiladze. His supporters have also managed to collect the 50,000 well ahead of time and are now focusing on the campaign.

“We have already collected enough signatures from supporters. We've more than 50,000 signatures, so it's enough to register Levan Gachechiladze as an official presidential candidate for the presidential election,” said Kakha Kukava, a member of the Georgian Parliament who supports Gachechiladze.

More than a dozen other presidential hopefuls have submitted their names to the Central Electoral Commission. They have until Thursday to hand in their lists of signatures.

In another development, opposition leaders in Georgia are calling on Germany not to extradite former defence minister Irakly Okruashvili.  They say it's for his own safety.  The rebel minister is wanted in Georgia on charges of abuse of power.
Irakly Okruashvili was detained in Berlin on November 27 following a request from Georgia. Under German law, Georgia has 40 days to submit evidence and substantiate an extradition request.

Banned TV station wins back licence
Also on Wednesday, an opposition Georgian TV station taken off air following violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police has had its licence restored.

Georgia's Prosecutor General's Office has asked a Tbilisi court to lift the seizure of Imedi TV’s property.

Imedi was stripped of the right to broadcast in November, when it was accused of calling for a coup.

If the appeal is successful the channel could resume programmes within three or four days.