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Election Officials Resign As Thousands Protest In Georgia, Azerbaijan

Tbilisi, 3 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of opposition demonstrators today rallied in Georgia, calling for an overhaul of the country's electoral code before the announcement of several resignations among the Central Election Commission. Around 4,000 demonstrators massed in the streets of the capital Tbilisi, demanding Georgia's electoral committee be made independent of the government before upcoming parliamentary elections.

By mid-afternoon, a spokesman for the electoral commission announced that six of the 18 commission members had submitted their resignations, with another four saying they intend to resign.

For several days, Georgia's parliament has been holding a session on changing the election code, but no agreements have been reached. Pro-presidential lawmakers have been pushing for laws that would allow President Eduard Shevardnadze to appoint at least half of the commission members.

Meanwhile, in Baku, police and demonstrators from nine of Azerbaijan's opposition groups, protesting against the country's new electoral code, clashed today near the parliament building.

About 100 members of Azerbaijani opposition parties and movements tried to hold an unsanctioned rally in front of parliament.

Police blocked their way and arrested about 20 of the demonstrators after small clashes broke out when police tried to disperse the crowd.

Earlier in the day, police prevented an elderly woman from committing self-immolation as a sign of protest.

Opposition groups say the new electoral laws, adopted at the end of May, pave the way for fraud in future elections.

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission announced yesterday that presidential elections will be held on 15 October.

Incumbent President Heidar Aliyev has already been forwarded as a candidate.