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June 29, 2017

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Georgia president rejects early resignation

TBILISI, Georgia--Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's party on Wednesday rejected calls for him to resign following a stunning opposition election victory that will transform Georgia's political landscape.

The victory of the Georgian Dream coalition of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in parliamentary polls will give Georgia a new government and may cool tensions with its top foe Russia which cautiously welcomed the result.

Saakashvili had gracefully conceded a surprise defeat in Monday's vote and promised to facilitate the formation of the next government, a rarity in an ex-Soviet region used to revolutions and autocrats who cling to their chairs.

But the opposition leader, who may himself become prime minister, has already called on the president to resign immediately — a demand that Saakashvili's party warned could cause confrontation.

"Speaking about snap presidential polls today shows disrespect to the Georgian people and violates the constitution," the outgoing chairman of parliament from the ruling party, David Bakradze, told a news conference.

He said he hoped it was "just an isolated incident amid euphoria caused by electoral victory" and would not lead to "crisis and confrontation."

Despite his party's defeat, Saakashvili is due to remain in office until presidential polls in a year's time.

Georgia's arch foe Russia, which has refused to speak to Saakashvili since the brief war between the two countries in 2008, said it hoped the opposition win would help to restore diplomatic relations.

"Clearly Georgian society voted for change," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

"We hope that in the end it will let Georgia move to a normalization and establishment of constructive and respectful relations with their neighbors. Russia would welcome this development," he said.

Unlike the president, Ivanishvili has personal ties to Russia, where he made his colossal fortune in the 1990s and resided until 2003.

In his first post-poll news conference Tuesday, Ivanishvili promised to maintain Georgia's pro-Western orientation and continue with its bid to join NATO but also to mend ties with Russia.

But the next government is unlikely to stop calling for the return of two Georgian breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where thousands of Russian troops have been stationed since Moscow recognised the rebel provinces as independent states after the war.

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