Breakaway Georgian republic goes to the polls

Voters in Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia were choosing a new president yesterday for the first time since Georgia and Russia fought a brief war over control of the territory in 2008.

Russia and a handful of other countries have recognised South Ossetia's independence, but the international community still considers it part of Georgia. South Ossetia has been led since 2001 by Eduard Kokoiti, who has served two terms as president and is stepping down.

Among those favoured to succeed him is Anatoly Bibilov, who heads South Ossetia's emergency services and has the support of Russia's dominant pro-Kremlin party, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. He favours a strengthening of ties with Russia, as do the other 10 candidates, who include the government information committee chairman, a former education minister and a bread factory director. The winner must receive more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a second round.

South Ossetia has about 50,000 registered voters, including 16,000 who live or work across the Russian border in North Ossetia.

Provisions were made for them to vote in South Ossetia, but heavy snow made it difficult for them to cross the mountainous border, the RIA Novosti news agency said. AP

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