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GEORGIA

Police vow to prevent voting unrest

TBILISI — Georgia’s Interior Ministry promised Sunday to prevent violence at polling stations, a day before the ex-Soviet republic votes amid heightened tensions caused by a jail torture scandal.

“I believe that we can ensure an environment on Election Day free of intimidation and pressure, allowing every voter in Georgia to cast their vote in a peaceful environment,” Interior Minister Eka Zguladze told AFP.

Revelations this month of the torture and rape of prison inmates sparked protests, and hit President Mikheil Saakashvili’s ruling party as it faces a strong challenge from an opposition coalition led by billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili in Monday’s parliamentary polls.

Ms. Zguladze said police would show restraint when dealing with any polling day incidents in order not to inflame tensions.

“The tactic which police will employ will be very cautious. Only as a last resort we will use force,” she said.

Ms. Zguladze said that since the torture scandal erupted, there had been 50 arrests across the country amid a series of scuffles involving political activists, ordinary Georgians, public officials and police officers.

The showdown between Mr. Saakashvili’s party and Mr. Ivanishvili’s opposition bloc has caused fears of unrest in the Western-backed state with a recent history of political turmoil and civil conflict.

From wire dispatches and staff reports