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The Week in Brief

Friday, January 4

The seven candidates enter tomorrow’s presidential election with the air poisoned by bellicose rhetoric and allegations of planned violence. Still, turnout for the closely monitored snap election is expected to be high.

Incumbent presidential candidate Mikheil Saakashvili topped off his campaign with a rousing, nationally televised speech in a town just south of secessionist Abkhazia. He pledged to regain Georgia’s lost territory, no matter the cost, and to return the country to the heights of its former glory under David the Builder.

Business tycoon and suspected coup plotter Badri Patarkatsishvili announced he will stay on the ballot after all, prompting his campaign chief to quit politics in disgust. Patarkatsishvili had earlier promised to bow out of the race after the government released covertly recorded tapes allegedly showing he planned a violent post-election coup. Patarkatsishvili denies the accusations.

Nine-party opposition coalition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who most polls suggest is the top competitor to Saakashvili, unveiled a three-page presidential program called “200 Days.” The document outlines the steps he will take in his 200-day presidential tenure if he wins, culminating in his resignation and the transformation of the state into a parliamentary system. He solemnly pledged to keep every one of his promises.

The situation grew tense in ethnic Georgian-populated areas of breakaway Abkhazia, as de facto secessionist leaders warned ethnic Georgians they faced expulsion if they try to vote in the election, and Georgian television stations reported raids on villages near the administrative border.

US-based Freedom House warned that Georgia regressed on key measures of political and civil freedoms in 2007. The democracy watchdog awarded Georgia its lowest scores since the 2003 Rose Revolution toppled ex-president Eduard Shevardnadze and ushered Mikheil Saakashvili to power.