Europe's Election Watchdog Criticizes Georgia Over Vote

Ballot-box stuffing, beatings of opposition activists, biased news coverage and government officials campaigning for President Mikheil Saakashvili's party tainted Georgia's parliamentary elections this year, Europe's main election watchdog said Tuesday.

The United States praised Georgia as a "courageous young democracy" after its brief war with Russia last month; but the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring arm said there were many significant shortcomings in a May 21 election, when Saakashvili's party won a majority.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said there were "many significant shortcomings" in the counting of the vote, followed by "widespread and serious irregularities" in the way Georgian authorities handled around 1,400 election-related complaints and appeals.

At least six opposition activists who were taking legal action against electoral irregularities were beaten, it added.

"In one severe case, a United Opposition candidate's leg was broken by unknown attackers after his car was first forced to stop," the report said.

Meanwhile, the election watchdog's new head told reporters Tuesday in Moscow that the organization wanted to improve relations with the Kremlin after saying it was regrettable that the group had not monitored earlier Russian polls.

"There is a willingness in the Russian Federation to start a new chapter with ODIHR," Janez Lenarcic said. "In the past there was a certain level of mistrust and suspicion."

The Kremlin accused the watchdog of looking for an excuse not to cover the elections and of being a tool of the United States.