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    Georgians back NATO membership in referendum

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    Georgia's top election official said on Friday that 72.5% of voters backed the ex-Soviet state's aspirations to join NATO in a referendum held simultaneously with the presidential polls on January 5.

    TBILISI, January 11 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's top election official said on Friday that 72.5% of voters backed the ex-Soviet state's aspirations to join NATO in a referendum held simultaneously with the presidential polls on January 5.

    The South Caucasus state has sought membership of the Western military alliance ever since Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2003. The U.S.-educated Saakashvili, who called the snap election amid mass street protests in early November, won reelection, gaining 52% of the vote.

    Central Election Commission chairman Irakly Porchkhidze confirmed Saakashvili's victory, and said there would be no second round of voting. Saakashvili's main rival, single opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, garnered slightly over 25% of the vote.

    The opposition has called for a second round, claiming the polls were flawed, and has pledged to hold a peaceful protest on January 13.

    Western monitors admitted there were some violations at the election, but declared the polls largely free and fair. The country's election commission earlier said it would announce the final results on January 13.

    Porchkhidze also said 69.8% of voters supported the opposition's proposal to move the parliamentary election forward from the fall of 2008 to the spring. The date of the parliamentary election is due to be announced by the president.

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