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    Moscow calls Georgian early polls a farce to maintain leadership

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    Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday dismissed Georgia's early presidential elections set for January 5 as a deceptive maneuver designed to keep the current leadership in power.

    MOSCOW, November 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday dismissed Georgia's early presidential elections set for January 5 as a deceptive maneuver designed to keep the current leadership in power.

    "Unfortunately, the impression that the early elections will be an obvious farce designed to help the current leaders preserve power has been confirmed," the ministry said in a commentary posted on its Web site.

    "The date of the polls testifies to that. The opposition will be unable to form a united front within such a short time, and society will not be able to overcome its fear of reprisals in the wake of the brutal police crackdown on protests [last week]."

    The Russian ministry recalled that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declared early presidential elections after six days of mass protests in Tbilisi. The protests were brought to an end by riot police last Wednesday and Saakashvili declared a state of emergency and set early polls for January 5.

    He promised to lift a 15-day state of emergency ahead of time following harsh Western criticism of his handling of the crisis, the worst to hit the small ex-Soviet state since the 2003 protests that brought him to power.

    "His recent long public statements widely covered in the media mean the start of an election campaign. It is beginning in exceptional circumstances - the state of emergency remains in force despite objections by the international community; freedom of speech and meetings is restricted, the opposition is still being persecuted," the Russian ministry said.

    The ministry added that they were banking on reduced voter activity during the New Year and Christmas holidays which would make it easier to falsify the election results.

    Saakashvili said earlier he is urging early elections because he needs a mandate to cope with pressure. "I need a clear mandate from you to deal with the pressure on the country, to cope with attempts to annex our territories," he said.

    He called on international organizations to send the maximum amount of observers to the presidential elections, saying the elections would be "democratic and transparent."

    The Russian ministry also said the election campaign is based on "undisguised Russophobia," referring to recent reports about alleged missile attacks and airspace violations by Russia, as well as alleged deployment of Russian military hardware in Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia.

    The UN observer mission in Georgia monitoring the area found no military hardware, but, the Russian ministry said, "Mikheil Saakashvili does not care about facts."

    The Russian ministry said Moscow believes political processes in Georgia are "an internal affair of a neighboring country and it would be incorrect to interfere," but expressed hope that Georgians, while being guided by common sense, will not frustrate long-lasting relations between Russians and Georgians.

    Representatives of the Georgian opposition said on Thursday they had so far failed to reach an agreement with the parliamentary speaker.

    The opposition is demanding amendments to election laws, an end to alleged political repressions, and that broadcasts by the independent Imedi TV company be resumed. The broadcaster's license was frozen and its property seized earlier in the day.

    "We will continue dialogue and hope to achieve some results," Tinatin Khidasheli, a member of the Republican Party, said.

    Mamuka Katsitadze, a member of the Right Opposition faction, said the sides had reached certain agreements on election issues but many issues have yet to be coordinated.

    Saakashvili came to power after the 2003 "rose revolution" in Georgia. He has pledged to return breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Tbilisi's control. Russia has said all disagreements should be resolved by means of talks.

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