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    TBILISI, January 3rd, 2003 (RIA Novosti correspondent) - Leader of the National Movement party and candidate from the Burdzhanadze-Democrats political association, Mikhail Saakashvili - one of the leaders of the November Velvet Revolution - is standing the highest chances of winning the early presidential elections in Georgia. This is the opinion of the majority of Georgian NGOs following the run-up processes in the country.

    In his programme address to the voters, Saakashvili declared Georgia's readiness for friendship with Russia but only if Moscow respects Georgia's independence and sovereignty.

    "We want to be friends with Russia but it should realise that we have other options such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey," said Saakashvili.

    The presidential hopeful has also touched upon the problem of the Adzharian autonomy and voiced his attitude to its leader Aslan Abashidze. "Adzharia is not Aslan Abashidze's property. If somebody tries to separate this territory from Georgia, I have a four-wall accommodation for this person at the ready. I am ready to meet Abashidze and meet him half-way. But I will never make any concessions detrimental to the country's interests. Shevardnadze has already destroyed what could be destroyed. There is no need for any more destruction. Moreover, we will certainly restore Georgia's territorial integrity and reach the Psou (a river on the border between the Abzhazian self-proclaimed republic and Russia)," Saakashvili said in his election programme, as appearing in front of his supporters in the Sports Palace in late December.

    Besides Saakashvili, contending for the top state position in Georgia will be leader of the David the Builder political movement Roin Liparteliani, head of the Georgian Lawyers' Association Kartlos Garibashvili, leader of the Mdzleveli political movement Zurab Kelekhsashvili, leader of the Georgian League of the Disabled NGO Zaza Sikharulidze, and former governor of the Imeretia (a district of Georgia) Teimuraz Shashiashvili.

    Originally, 15 candidates intended to run for president but eight of them failed to gather the necessary number of signatures - 50,000. Another presidential candidate - former state security minister Igor Giorgadze - failed to get registered with the Central Election Commission because he had not been living on Georgian territory in the past two years as the law on presidential elections requires.

    Igor Giorgadze is being charged by the Georgian authorities for organising a murder attempt on Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995. since then, Giorgadze has been on the international wanted list.

    Under the Constitution, the Georgian head of state is elected by secret vote for five years. The same person can stay in office only for two terms in a row.

    Elections are recognised valid if over 50% of voters plus one vote took part in them. According to the law, voters are marked with special liquid on the right hand. The special marking liquid is provided by the OSCE.

    As the law has it, election campaign stops 24 hours before the elections. Polling stations will open at 8 am and close at 8 pm local time. The final results of the elections are to be announced 18 days after the event but the Central Election Commission's press centre said official outcome of the polls would be ready by January 7th.

    The presidential elections in Georgia have been scheduled for January 4th.

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