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EU newcomers urge fair polls in Georgia

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(TBILISI) - Five of the European Union's newest members on Monday urged Georgia to show democratic progress in upcoming elections as a way of advancing its ambitions to join the EU and NATO.

The foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania visited the Western-backed ex-Soviet state to assess the situation amid heightened political tensions before crucial parliamentary polls on October 1.

"We are not here to support any political force, but to see Georgia's progress on its path towards NATO and the European Union," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said in comments reported by Georgian media.

The governing party of President Mikheil Saakashvili is facing its toughest electoral battle since coming to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution, against a revitalised opposition led by billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Amid fears of post-election turmoil, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called for a fair vote whose results would be accepted by both winners and losers.

"It is important that all political forces have fair and equal opportunities and if the results are recognised as fair by observers, all parties must accept them," he said, according to Georgian media.

The US, EU and NATO have also called on Georgia to hold fair polls.

Saakashvili has promised to hold "the most free, most transparent elections" since the country became independent in 1991.

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