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EU pledges close ties with Georgia after vote

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU pledged continued political and economic ties with Georgia on Tuesday after President Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat in parliamentary polls to an opposition coalition led by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili.

"We look forward to continued close cooperation with Georgia on our ambitious mutual agenda of political association and economic integration," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele.

"The EU congratulates the Georgian Dream coalition on its election victory," the two said in a joint statement.

"The Georgian people have now spoken. Both responsible government and constructive opposition are essential parts of a functioning democratic society.

"We call on all representatives elected to the new parliament to work together in the interests of Georgia."

The statement also said "the generally positive conduct" of Monday's polls and high voter participation "underscore Georgia's commitment to its democratic path."

Earlier, European Parliament president Martin Schulz hailed the election process as "a sign of Georgia's growing political maturity."

"If the partial results of the ballot are confirmed, it will be for the first time in Georgia's history that governmental power will be transferred via a democratic process," he said in a statement.

"I commend all political forces for showing restraint," he added.

Though Saakashvili remains as president, the defeat of his United National Movement to Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition in the parliamentary polls spells the end of his nine years of largely unchallenged dominance over Georgia.

"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.

He indicated that Georgian Dream would have the majority in the new parliament and would form the new government.

Earlier in Vilnius, European Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who holds the development portfolio, said the vote had been a key test and that Brussels' aid to Georgia would be unchanged.

"These are democratic elections," he told AFP during a visit to Lithuania, a former Soviet-rule republic that joined the EU in 2004.

"Well, there have been, at least from what I have seen, some irregularities reported, but not to the scale that challenge the democratic choice of the country," he said.

"So our engagement with Georgia will not change whoever will form the government, because it's a government that has been elected in democratic elections," he added.

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