Russia tries to defuse rebel South Ossetia crisis

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A senior Kremlin official held talks in the rebel Georgian region of South Ossetia on Thursday as Russia tried to defuse a political crisis sparked by the invalidation of leadership polls.

Russian presidential administration official Sergei Vinokurov met female opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva, who launched street protests after the supreme court cancelled poll results which could have made her the leader of the tiny Moscow-backed province.

Local official news agency RES reported that Dzhioyeva said she had "constructive dialogue" with Vinokurov in the early hours of Thursday morning, without giving further details.

Protests rocked the region on Wednesday, as security forces fired warning shots to prevent Dzhioyeva's supporters from breaking into a government building in the impoverished province which was the focus of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.

But Dzhioyeva said on Thursday that she would not back down, calling herself the rightful "president" after her unexpected weekend victory over a candidate backed by South Ossetia's patron Moscow was cancelled by the region's supreme court.

"It goes without saying that we won't make any compromises and will strive to the end for the recognition of our victory," Dzhioyeva told the Interfax news agency.

As up to 3,000 people rallied for hours in the main town Tskhinvali despite heavy snow on Wednesday, Dzhioyeva appealed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for support, warning that the region was on the brink of "civil war".

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

© 2011 AFP

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