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Shevardnadze Elected Leader of Georgia

FORMER Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze has been elected overwhelmingly as Georgia's new leader, preliminary results of national elections showed.

An estimated 75 percent of eligible voters participated in the poll Sunday, according to information from all but 10 of the 84 electoral districts that held the vote. The poll was not held in four districts in the rebel region of Abkhazia, three in western Georgia - stronghold of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and two in the troubled region of South Ossetia.

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Vladimir Sanikadze, deputy head of the analytical and legal department of the election committee, said Mr. Shevardnadze - the only candidate on the ballot for parliament chairman - got between 93 and 94 percent in the districts where votes have been counted. He needed only one-third of all votes cast to win.

The poll was held against the background of fierce ethnic fighting in Abkhazia, where hundreds of people have been killed since August in fighting between loyalist forces and local rebels backed by tribal gunmen from Russia's north Caucasus. The rebels have seized most of the territory north of Sukhumi, the capital.

Georgian officials and local journalists reported fresh violence Sunday: Abkhaz separatists and their allies from southern Russia attacked a town in southern Abkhazia with artillery and armored cars; and rebels shot down a Georgian fighter-bomber outside a northern Abkhaz village.

Georgia sent troops to Abkhazia in August, a month after separatists in the local parliament voted for more autonomy. A cease-fire reached with Russia in early September soon collapsed.

Georgia has since demanded that Russia withdraw its garrison of former Soviet soldiers from the republic, leaving behind all weapons and equipment. Russia has said this could spark armed clashes.

Shevardnadze was scheduled to hold talks on Abkhazia with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and rebel leader Vladislav Ardzinba today, but it was unclear if that meeting would take place.

Shevardnadze has led Georgia's ruling State Council since returning to his Transcaucasian homeland in March.

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Supporters of Mr. Gamsakhurdia, ousted in January by an armed rebellion, had called for a boycott of the poll.

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