Moscow-friendly separatist leader may win in breakaway South Ossetia elections

Georgia’s disputed breakaway region South Ossetia is holding parliamentary elections on Sunday, which may increase the Russian-backed local separatist leader’s hold over the region.

Reports and officials said that the voter turnout was strong during the region’s first election since Moscow and Tbilisi clashed over the province.

The mountainous region of almost 70,000 people had declared itself independent from Georgia after the war last year.

There are around 45,000 eligible voters, a figure that is considered by some experts as an overstatement.

Today’s election is important for the territory that has a few hundred ethnic Georgian as four parties are competing for 34 parliamentary seats.

But two parties are barred from contesting the elections for not being loyal to the ruling separatist leader.

The polling booth will close at 8 p.m. local time (16:00 GMT), and the preliminary results will be disclosed two hours later.

Except Russia and Nicaragua, the remaining of the countries still considers South Ossetia as a part of Georgia, located north of Tbilisi.

Moscow provides financial support to the region affected by the war, but experts believe that separatist leader Eduard Kokoity has not completely used the money to reconstruct the territory.

Reports said that Kokoity, leader of Unity party, is likely to win. The 44-year-old leader is reportedly trying pass a law that would allow him to contest general elections for a third term in 2011.

Georgia is a staunch United States ally in the region after Mikheil Saakashvili became president.

The Georgian president is still criticized for not being able to handle the conflict with Russia last year, which led Moscow enter its territory and tookover the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, from Georgian control.

In mid-September 2008, Russian soldiers withdrew from the border regions after a five-day war with Georgia in August, which led to the killing of at least 15 Russian peacekeepers and as many as 1,500 civilians in the deadliest clashes in the region since 1992.

Both the countries have been trying to regain control over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which has had de facto independence after the end of the 1992 civil war.


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