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Rebel Abkhazia votes in parliamentary elections

Voters in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia went to the polls on Saturday to choose a new parliament under the shadow of a recent assassination attempt against their leader.

Almost 150 candidates were standing for 35 seats in the parliament of the rebel statelet on the Black Sea, whose independence is recognised only by Russia and a handful of far-flung states.

Parliament is elected for a five-year term and currently dominated by the governing United Abkhazia party, which is competing for seats along with three other factions.

With two hours left until the close of polls, 37.60 percent of the electorate had cast their ballots, the central election commission said. But even this relatively weak turnout was above the 25 percent needed for the elections to be considered valid.

The polls in the region of some 240,000 people are unlikely to change Abkhazia’s pro-Russian orientation or herald any shift towards more positive relations with Georgia.

The vote comes less than a month after Abkhazia’s leader Alexander Ankvab survived an assassination attempt which killed one of his bodyguards.

Ankvab said the attack was an attempt to destabilise Abkhazia but did not blame Georgia, while local media speculated that it was linked to his promises to tackle corruption.

Moscow recognised Abkhazia and another Kremlin-backed rebel region South Ossetia as independent states after the Georgia-Russia war in 2008.

Georgia says the polls are illegitimate because they are being held under Kremlin “occupation” — a reference to thousands of Russian troops stationed there permanently since the 2008 war.

Most Abkhazians have Russian passports and some 74,000 people there also voted in Russia’s presidential elections this month, with 91 per cent casting their ballots for victor Vladimir Putin according to local reports.