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Abkhaz Court Reverses on Vote

Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia has been thrown into confusion and disarray after the Abkhaz Supreme Court annulled the results of October's presidential election just hours after declaring an opposition leader its winner.

Georgy Akaba, the court's presiding judge, told a news conference Friday that the annulment had been made under pressure and could not be considered legal, but that did not stop Abkhazia's outgoing leader, President Vladislav Ardzinba, from calling new elections.

Abkhazia has been tense since Oct. 3, when it held its first openly contested presidential vote in more than a decade of unrecognized independence.

Prime Minister Raul Khadzhimba maintains his rival -- opposition leader Sergei Bagapsh -- fell short of winning the race outright and says some districts saw voting irregularities.

Late Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Bagapsh had won the presidency with 50.32 percent of the vote, upholding an earlier decision by the Central Election Commission. Immediately after Akaba issued the verdict, several hundred Khadzhimba supporters rushed into the court building. Hours later, the judge read another ruling, declaring the vote void and ordering a new election to be held within two months.

Meanwhile, Abkhazia put its troops on alert Saturday amid fears that Georgia would take advantage of the confusion and launch an invasion.

(The Moscow Times 01.xi.04)

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