Georgians Back NATO Membership

TBILISI, Georgia -- More than 70 percent of Georgians who took part in a nationwide referendum said they wanted the country to join NATO, according to results released Friday.

The plebiscite was held simultaneously with the Jan. 5 presidential vote in which Mikheil Saakashvili won his second presidential term.

The Central Election Commission said 72.5 percent of those who cast ballots in the referendum said they supported Georgia's accession into NATO. The turnout was 58.9 percent.

"We expected such results," Georgy Baramidze, minister for European integration, said in televised comments. "They show that we have support of majority of the population."

NATO member states have supported Georgia's hopes of joining the Western alliance.

Also on Jan. 5, Georgians approved a referendum to move up parliamentary elections from late 2008. A total of 69.8 percent of those who cast ballots voted for holding early parliamentary elections in the spring.