Rebel Transdniestr votes for new leader

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Moldova's rebel region Transdniestr Sunday voted in run-off polls for a new leader after the man who held it in a virtual Soviet time warp for two decades was eliminated in the first round.

The rule of Igor Smirnov, who had dominated Transdniestr since it split from Moldova in a civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was ended when he could only manage third place in December 11's first round.

The two contenders to succeed him in the run-off are the Kremlin-backed candidate Anatoly Kaminsky and the more opposition-inclined Yevgeny Shevchuk.

Shevchuk polled 38.55 percent of votes in the first round compared with Kaminsky's 26.3 percent. But the outcome remains difficult to predict.

Early turnout was brisk, the official Olviya news agency reported from the main city of Tiraspol, noting that there had already been controversy over alleged election day agitation by Shevchuk's supporters.

Smirnov's position was fatally weakened after the Kremlin made it clear earlier this year that he no longer enjoyed its support, in a region where Russian peacekeepers are still deployed and reliant on economic support.

Whoever wins will inherit an economically impoverished region notorious for organised crime whose independence has not been recognised internationally, not even by Russia.

The Russian-speaking region with a population of over 555,000 wedged between the Dniestr river and the border with Ukraine declared independence from Romanian-speaking Moldova in 1990 after a brief civil war.

Under Smirnov, a former trade unionist who bears more than a passing resemblance to Lenin, it retained state symbols and insignia barely changed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The elections came after the parties in the conflict met in Vilnius last month to hold the first official talks since 2006 on resolving the conflict.

Lithuania, which chairs the OSCE and hosted the talks, described the meeting as a "stepping stone" but it was unclear if any substantial progress was made.

© 2011 AFP

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