TBILISI, Georgia (AP) – Thousands of supporters of Abkhazia’s opposition presidential candidate seized the office of the outgoing president Friday, raising tensions in the breakaway Georgian region nearly six weeks after a disputed – and unresolved – election.

Demonstrators supporting Sergei Bagapsh and his contention that he won the Oct. 3 election stormed the headquarters of outgoing President Vladislav Ardzinba in the region’s main city, Sukhumi.

Footage on Russian television showed people waving Abkhazian flags from the windows and armed men celebrating with champagne and vodka in Ardzinba’s office. Scattered fist fights were seen in the hallways, and several people were reported injured.

A Bagapsh supporter, Robert Taniya, answered the phone in the presidential headquarters and said Bagapsh already occupied Ardzinba’s office.

But Bagapsh denied that in a telephone conversation with The Associated Press.

The Interfax news agency reported that Bagapsh appealed to his supporters to disperse and promised to assume the presidency by legal means.

Abkhazia, which has had de facto independence since Georgian troops were driven from the region in 1993, has been in turmoil since the Oct. 3 vote.

Election officials ruled that Bagapsh won, defeating former Prime Minister Raul Khadzhimba, and the region’s highest court confirmed his victory.

However, the court overturned the verdict hours later after hundreds of Khadzhimba’s supporters broke into the court building and allegedly threatened the court’s chief judge.

Amid the turmoil, Ardzinba ordered a new election, a decision Bagapsh has refused to recognize.

Earlier Friday, Bagapsh again claimed victory in a telephone interview with AP.

“We were victorious in the election,” he said. “That means that my inauguration as president will take place on Dec. 6.”

Georgia has ignored the election turmoil. Since being elected in January, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed repeatedly to reign in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway region.

AP-ES-11-12-04 1105EST

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