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TBILISI: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded a shock defeat on Tuesday to a billionaire tycoon in parliamentary polls, ending nine years of dominance that antagonised Russia and brought Tbilisi closer to the West.

Although Saakashvili remains president, the defeat of his United National Movement by Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition in Monday’s elections means he will lose control of parliament and the government.

His apparently graceful acceptance of the unexpected defeat marks one of the first times not only Georgia but any ex-Soviet state, excluding the Baltic countries, have seen a peaceful transfer of power since the fall of the USSR.

“It is clear that the (opposition) Georgian Dream has won a majority,” Saakashvili said in a dramatic televised speech after elections hailed as an “important step” for democracy by international observers.

“We, as an opposition force, will fight for the future of our country,” he said.

Ivanishvili appears the favourite to replace Saakashvili’s close ally Vano Merabishvili as prime minister although under current rules he will still have to be nominated by the president and approved by parliament. —AFP

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