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4 Jan, 2008 05:39

Tbilisi quiet as Georgia reflects ahead of vote

Campaigning ahead of Saturday's presidential election in Georgia is over, as Friday has been declared an official day of reflection. The people of Georgia can consider their voting intentions without being subjected to any last-minute pleas or threats. Ne

The ballot papers have been printed. The polling stations are ready. After a hard fought campaign, Georgia is set to go to the polls to decide who will be its next president.

Opposition leader, media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, has rejoined the race for the presidency. He had earlier withdrawn from the election after being accused of using his TV channel, Imedi, to aid a coup attempt.

The Georgian media's been at the heart of a bitter political tussle in the run-up to the January 5 poll.

Ex-president Mikhail Saakashvili called the snap election after police clashed with demonstrators in Tbilisi on November 7. Journalists found themselves caught up in the violence. He then had to leave his post in temporary control of Parliament Speaker, Nino Burdzhanadze, in order to participate in the election.

Following the disturbances, special forces raided and shut down the opposition TV channel, Imedi, which the authorities said was airing calls to stage a coup. During the crisis, government representatives had harsh words for the channel's journalists.

The channel subsequently reopened, but less than two months later, the authorities produced evidence implicating Imedi's founder and co-owner, billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, in a plot to overthrow the government in the days following the election.

Dozens of journalists quit the channel and its management decided to take it off the air once again.

This leaves Georgia with three major TV stations remaining on air. The opposition alleges they are all subject to a pro-government bias. United opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze has more than once lashed out at journalists from these stations and has even ordered them to leave his press conferences.

Amid predictions of fraud, the country's government claims the vote will be a clean one and has taken special measures to ensure that it meets democratic standards.