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International observers praise Georgia's election

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LYNN BERRY | October 28, 2013 06:46 AM EST | AP

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TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — International observers gave their stamp of approval to Georgia's presidential election on Monday, characterizing it as "clean" and "transparent."

Sunday's election was won easily by Giorgi Margvelashvili, a 44-year-old former university rector with limited political experience.

He was the choice of billionaire Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has now consolidated his control over this U.S.-allied former Soviet republic.

"In a positive and transparent election, the Georgian people have confirmed last year's historic transfer of power," Joao Soares, who lead the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer mission, said in a statement. "This clean election following a political cohabitation tells me that Georgia's democracy is maturing."

Margvelashvili will succeed Mikhail Saakashvili, the president since early 2004 whose party was defeated in last year's parliamentary election. In the year since, he and Ivanishvili have shared an uneasy coexistence.

Much of the tension has been the result of criminal charges filed against dozens of people from Saakashvili's team, including several former ministers. Saakashvili also is expected to be questioned after he leaves office next month.

On Monday, a Georgian court convicted a former defense minister, Bacho Akhalaia, and ordered him sent to prison for three years and nine months.

Akhalaia was found guilty of using excessive force to suppress a prison uprising in 2006 in which seven inmates were killed and 22 injured. He was head of the prison system at the time. He also served as an interior minister in charge of police under Saakashvili.

Ivanishvili has maintained the pro-Western course set by Saakashvili during his nearly 10 years in office. The prosecutions, however, have raised concerns in the United States and Europe that his government is using the justice system to settle political scores. Ivanishvili denies this. European Union monitors have been attending the high-profile trials.

Margvelashvili won Sunday's election with 62 percent of the vote.

The presidential candidate from Saakashvili's party, former parliament speaker David Bakradze, finished second with 22 percent. This was a higher result than expected and will help the party maintain political influence as the main opposition party in parliament.

In third place among the 23 candidates with 10 percent was Nino Burdzhanadze, a veteran politician who has called for Saakashvili to be jailed.

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Associated Press writer Misha Dzhindzhikhasvili contributed to this report.