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Kremlin favorite faces run-off in South Ossetia elections

A candidate favored by the Kremlin has unexpectedly failed to win a majority in a presidential election in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, and now faces a run-off vote. The elections were backed by Moscow.

A man votes in a South Ossetian election

Despite Sunday snowfalls, turnout was over 66 percent

Kremlin-backed presidential candidate Anatoly Bibilov is now facing a run-off election, after unexpectedly failing to win a majority in Sunday's first round of voting in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On Monday, it emerged that Bibilov, the current emergencies minister, was virtually tied on votes with former education minister Alla Dzhioyeva.

According to results published by the electoral commission on Monday, based on 99 percent of votes cast, Bibilov won 25.44 percent of votes, just ahead of Dzhioyeva on 25.37 percent. No other candidate polled more than 10 percent. A runoff vote will take place on November 27.

It's the first such vote to take place since Russia recognized South Ossetia's independence after Moscow's 2008 war with Georgia.

A column of Russian armored vehicles head towards the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia

Russia moved troops into the region, later recognizing it as independent from Georgia

But whoever succeeds Eduard Kokoity - the former wrestling champion who has dominated South Ossetia for a decade - will be seen as illegitimate by most of the world' nations.

On Monday, the European Union and NATO condemned the vote, stressing they do not recognize South Ossetia's self-declared independence.

"The holding of such elections does not contribute to a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

The Georgian government denounced the elections as a charade.

"Occupation forces and their proxy regime have staged yet another cynical act of pseudo-democracy in the occupied Tskhinvali region," said Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze, using the Georgian name for the region.

Legacy of war

Once elected, the next president will inherit numerous problems. Much of the funding provided by Moscow to reconstruct South Ossetia after the war was lost though corruption and the capital, Tskhinvali, has still to be fully rebuilt.

Georgia lost control of South Ossetia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and failed to retake control over the region in the 2008 war. With most of the remaining population being ethnic Russian, Moscow recognized the region as independent and stationed thousands of troops there.

The situation in South Ossetia echoes that nearby Abkhazia, which also broke away from Georgia and was eventually recognized as independent by Russia. Voters in Abkhazia elected the pro-Russian candidate Alexander Ankvab as their new president in August.


Author: Gabriel Borrud, Richard Connor, Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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