Protest rocks rebel South Ossetia after poll annulled
Police in the rebel Georgian region of South Ossetia on Wednesday fired warning shots to quell a protest amid a growing political crisis after leadership polls were annulled.
Security forces fired into the air to prevent thousands of angry supporters of female opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva from forcing their way into the central election commission building, an AFP correspondent reported.
The tiny self-declared statelet was plunged into crisis on Tuesday when her surprise weekend poll victory over a Russian-backed candidate was cancelled by its supreme court.
Outgoing strongman leader Eduard Kokoity warned after the incident that unrest would be dealt with harshly, as a crowd of up to three thousand people gathered on the main square in the main town Tskhinvali.
"Those who try to destabilise the situation will strictly answer before the law. The South Ossetian leadership will make no compromises and concessions," Kokoity said in comments reported by Interfax news agency.
Protesters had marched through the streets of the main town Tskhinvali in protest after accusing the authorities of a "power grab".
Some carried Russian and South Ossetian flags and placards with slogans like "Dzhioyeva is the elected president" and "Respect the choice of the people".
Dzhioyeva campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket against the Kremlin's favoured candidate Anatoly Bibilov, accusing the impoverished region's rulers of mismanaging aid money sent from Moscow to rebuild the battle-scarred province which was the focus of Russia's 2008 war with Georgia.
Moscow recognised the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway region Abkhazia shortly after the conflict and established permanent military bases there, despite other world powers insisting both territories remain an integral part of Georgia.
In its first formal statement on the disputed vote, the Russian foreign ministry called "on all political sides to respect decisions that were adopted in accordance with the law by the supreme authorities" of South Ossetia.
But Dzhioyeva refused to accept the vote's annulment and announced the formation of her own parallel regime, which she called a "state council".
"The state council will function until the legitimate authorities are formed," she told the local official news agency RES, saying that this was her first decision "in the role of president elected by the people".
Dzhioyeva went to the Russian embassy in South Ossetia on Wednesday to appeal for support as her supporters rallied outside, some shouting "Russia! Russia!"
The local security service, which still goes by its Soviet-era name KGB, said earlier that it would not stop the protests if they remain peaceful.
"But in the event of a threat to public safety and violations of the law, we will be forced to intervene," a KGB statement said, according to RES.
The supreme court of South Ossetia has scheduled a new election for March 25. The election commission had Dzhioyeva leading Sunday's runoff ballot with 56.7 percent when the vote was annulled because of alleged violations.
Georgia said fair elections were impossible because the territory is "occupied" by thousands of Russian troops stationed there since the 2008 war, when most ethnic Georgian inhabitants were expelled.
The West has also condemned the polls.
"We don't recognise the legitimacy or the outcome of this runoff presidential election. We reiterate our strong support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.
The population of the tiny region is also the subject of dispute, with the rebel authorities claiming 70,000 while Georgia says the figure is no more than 15,000.
© 2011 AFP