Kremlin-backed candidate claims victory in Georgia separatist poll

The Kremlin-backed leader of Georgia’s separatist region of Abhkhazia has claimed victory in a disputed election denounced by the central government and the West as illegal.

Over Raul Khajimba’s five years as leader, the tiny Black Sea enclave has sought ever closer ties with Russia — one of only a handful of countries to recognize Abkhazia’s independence.

“We have won thanks to your support,” Khajimba told some 2,000 supporters at a rally held late Sunday night in central Sukhumi, the area’s main city, Russian media reported.

Khajimba’s headquarters said he received 49.4 percent of the vote in a second-round runoff, against opposition candidate Alkhas Kvitsinia’s 47.5 percent.

Kvitsinia said Monday he would contest the result, without providing further details.

Georgia lost control over Abkhazia after a bloody war with separatists in the 1990s that claimed the lives of tens of thousands on both sides.

Most of Abkhazia’s ethnic Georgian population has been forcefully expelled from the region in what the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called “ethnic cleansing.”

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has said the polls “have no legitimacy either in legal, political or moral terms.”

“The so-called ‘presidential elections’ are yet another futile attempt to legalize ethnic cleansing, ongoing illegal occupation and factual annexation in the region of Abkhazia” by Russia, it added.

The United States, Britain, Germany, the EU and NATO have issued statements, rejecting the election’s legitimacy and backing Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Moscow recognized Abkhazia’s independence in 2008, in the aftermath of its war with Georgia, which marked the culmination of the years of spiraling confrontation over Tbilisi’s drive to forge closer ties with the West.

Russia later put a permanent military base there.

(Source: AFP)

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