TBILISI, Georgia (AP) – The high court in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia again reversed itself on whether presidential election results were valid, saying Friday an earlier ruling nullifying them should be ignored because court officials made it while being held hostage.

The region’s Supreme Court first declared an opposition leader the winner of this month’s election, but then nullified those results hours later. On Friday, a judge said that second ruling was illegal because it was made after supporters of Prime Minister Raul Khadzhimba stormed the courthouse and held officials hostage for six hours.

Departing President Vladislav Ardzinba, who has headed the unrecognized Black Sea region since before it broke away from Georgia, called for new elections to be held. He supported Khadzhimba.

Abkhazia has been tense since Oct. 3, when it held its first openly contested presidential vote in more than a decade of unrecognized independence.

The Central Election Commission initially declared opposition leader Sergei Bagapsh the victor over Khadzhimba. But Khadzhimba said his rival fell short of winning the race outright and claimed some districts experienced voting irregularities.

Late Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Bagapsh won the presidency with 50.32 percent of the vote, upholding an earlier decision by the Central Election Commission.

Immediately after that ruling, several hundred Khadzhimba supporters rushed into the court building. Hours later, the judge read another ruling, declaring the vote void and ordering a new election within two months.

Early Friday morning, Georgy Akaba, the presiding judge of Abkhazia’s Supreme Court, said at a news conference that the verdict canceling the vote was illegal because it was made while he was held hostage.

“The second Supreme Court verdict was issued under pressure and can’t be considered lawful,” Akaba said. “I was forced to make this decision because we were kept hostages for six hours.”

Akaba said Khadzhimba supporters held him hostage and broke into his safe and stole election documents. He also said he was concerned about the conditions of elderly court officials, who became ill as hundreds of people converged on the courthouse.

Bagapsh told The Associated Press the court’s decision annulling the election results was made after Khadzhimba’s supporters beat the judge and his lawyers. He added that a new election could be called only by the regional parliament.

Abkhazia has run its own affairs since 1993, when separatists drove out Georgian government troops, and it has cultivated close ties with Russia, which supported Khadzhimba.

AP-ES-10-29-04 1904EDT



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