Russia plays down South Ossetia crisis

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday played down an unprecedented post-election crisis gripping Georgia's Moscow-backed region of South Ossetia as a quarrel between rival clans.

"I do not like it much that they are quarrelling," Medvedev said in his first official response to the loss by a Kremlin-backed candidate to a female opposition leader in a leadership poll that was later annulled.

"But this happens, especially in small territories," Medvedev said. "They have a small number of participants representing various clans, which have altercations from time to time".

He also reaffirmed his support for the impoverished region, which is recognised as independent by Russia but no Western state, saying "it has enjoyed our support and will continue to do so."

South Ossetia, which was the focus of a brief 2008 Georgia-Russia war, has been rocked by continual protests since shortly after the November 27 ballot.

The region's outgoing strongman leader Eduard Kokoity vowed Monday to prevent a "revolution".

"This revolution will not happen here and we will not allow anyone to destabilise the situation inside the republic," said Kokoity, the Interfax news agency reported.

But apparent poll winner Alla Dzhioyeva, who has declared herself president, maintained her defiance by calling on Kokoity to leave office within two days.

"Within two days you can leave us in peace," she said, according to Interfax.

A new election has been scheduled for March 25 but the court has barred Dzhioyeva from participating.

Russia last week sent a senior administration official to try to defuse the crisis, which has embarrassed the Kremlin after the candidate it backed was defeated in the leadership vote.

Talks so far have continued without results.

Moscow recognised the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, shortly after the 2008 war despite other world powers insisting that both territories remain an integral part of Georgia.

Georgia said fair elections were impossible because the breakaway region is "occupied" by thousands of Russian troops stationed there since the war, when most ethnic Georgian inhabitants were expelled.

© 2011 AFP

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