TBILISI, Georgia (AP) – Mikhail Saakashvili was narrowly re-elected as Georgia’s president, election officials said Sunday, announcing preliminary results that threatened to inflame tensions in this former Soviet republic but appeared to avoid a runoff for the pro-Western leader.

According to the tally based on results from nearly all precincts in Georgia, Saakashvili won 52.8 percent, compared to 27 percent for his main opponent, said Levan Tarkhnishvili, head of the Central Election Commission.

Earlier Sunday, several thousand people rallied in Tblisi, claiming the vote was rigged.

Saakashvili was once praised as an icon of democracy in the former Soviet Union but shocked his Western allies when he crushed anti-government demonstrations late last year and shut down an independent television station.

The influential election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election revealed “significant challenges” but was generally in line with democratic commitments.

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