Georgian opposition media alleged early on Tuesday that police officers had fired rubber bullets as they removed ballot boxes from polling stations after hotly-contested parliamentary polls.
The Maestro and the 9th Channel TV stations said officers had forcibly removed ballot boxes at a number of polling stations in central Georgia’s Khashuri region.
They also said officers had "used tear gas and fired rubber bullets" at one polling station in the region as they removed a ballot box in order to "rewrite" the results. The 9th Channel, financed by opposition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, showed a crowd of angry opposition supporters heading toward polling stations in the area, some 80km from the capital of the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali.
The reports were later confirmed by Transparency International Georgia, an NGO that monitors political corruption.
Georgia’s Interior Ministry denied the allegations and said its officers were at the scene to maintain order.
The allegations came as Georgia’s opposition coalition, Georgian Dream, celebrated in central Tbilisi as exit polls suggested it had won a victory in Monday’s polls, although official results have not yet been announced.
President Mikheil Saakashvili, who leads the ruling United National Movement (UNM), admitted on state television that Georgian Dream was ahead in the vote in Tbilisi, but said his coalition was winning convincingly in the regions and that he was confident it would maintain its majority.
“But this does not mean we will split the country between Tbilisi and the regions,” Saakashvili said. “We are all citizens of Georgia and we must stand side-by-side.”
These elections have seen Saakashvili face his most serious political threat since coming to power in 2003 as the result of a revolt against a regime led by former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
The elections have taken on particular importance in the light of a law passed in 2010 that transfers the majority of the president’s executive powers to the prime minister. The law comes into force from 2013 when Saakashvili’s second term ends. Whoever wins Monday’s polls will be able to appoint the prime minister.
The run-up to the elections had seen fears of the kind of post-poll violence that has marked previous votes here in Georgia, a small, South Caucasus state with EU and NATO aspirations.