Candidates neck-and-neck in rebel South Ossetia vote

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A female outsider was Monday neck-and-neck with the establishment candidate in elections for the new leader of Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia, initial results showed.

Ex-education minister Alla Dzhioyeva was slightly ahead of the pro-Kremlin candidate Anatoly Bibilov based on votes from half the polling stations after Sunday's polls, election commission said in a statement.

The commission said Dzhioyeva had so far polled 9,972 votes and Bibilov 8,971. The election was a run-off after a first round earlier this month was inconclusive.

Whoever wins will not enjoy wide recognition as the "president" of South Ossetia, since the statelet is recognised as independent only by Russia and a handful of far-flung states after Moscow's 2008 war with Tbilisi.

The West, which insists South Ossetia is an integral part of Georgia, has condemned the elections as illegitimate.

Nonetheless the failure of Bibilov to sweep the run-off is a major surprise given he was supported by outgoing leader Eduard Kokoity and he had the backing of the Kremlin, South Ossetia's only significant patron.

The size of the electorate in tiny South Ossetia is itself controversial.

While the rebel authorities say its total population is around 70,000, Georgian officials argue that the figure is no more than 15,000 due to the expulsion of ethnic Georgians and migration.

© 2011 AFP

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