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Thousands rally outside Georgia's parliament in protest at election

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Thousands rally outside Georgia's parliament in protest at election
Copyright  VANO SHLAMOV/AFP or licensors
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Thousands of anti-government demonstrators rallied in the capital of Georgia on Saturday demanding new elections after the opposition said the polls two weeks ago were marred by fraud.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, led by the country's richest man and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, narrowly won the October 31 poll that opposition parties claimed was rigged.

Opposition parties have refused to enter the new parliament in a boycott that has undermined the ruling party's legitimacy.

In an unprecedented show of unity before the vote, the main opposition party, exiled former president Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM), agreed with smaller opposition groups to form a coalition government if elected.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered outside parliament on Saturday and promised to keep up the protest movement until new elections are called.

Georgian Dream has insisted the vote was free and fair.

"We will continue protests until our demand is met," Nika Melia, a UNM leader, told the crowd, saying the October ballot was "stolen."

Forty-year-old baker Nukri Archvadze told AFP at the protest: "Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream have staged a coup by rigging the elections. They must call a fresh vote and leave power."

Last Sunday, 45,000 protesters rallied outside parliament before marching towards the central election commission headquarters, threatening to block entrances.

Riot police dispersed the protesters in the early hours of Monday, firing water cannon and leaving several people injured.

The electoral commission has yet to confirm provisional results that showed Georgian Dream won 48 percent of the votes against 46 percent for opposition parties, in a proportional ballot that decides 120 of the legislature's 150 seats.

Owing to Georgia's complex electoral system, the parliament's final makeup may only become clear in late November.

In power since 2012, Georgian Dream has seen its popularity fall due to discontent over its failure to address economic stagnation and perceived backsliding on commitments to democracy.

Critics accuse the country's richest man Ivanishvili, who is widely seen to be calling the shots in Georgia, of persecuting political opponents and creating a corrupt system where private interests permeate politics.