South Ossetia crisis deepens as protesters defiant

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The crisis in Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia deepened Friday as demonstrators angry about the cancellation of leadership poll results refused to end their protests.

Supporters of opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva, who proclaimed herself president despite a court decision to cancel poll results, set up a tent camp in the central square of the main town Tskhinvali.

Some 50 people braved nighttime temperatures touching minus 10 degrees celsius and they were joined by at least 100 more in the morning, an AFP correspondent reported. Benches were set up and tea laid on, in a sign they were preparing for a long haul.

Some 700 people had protested the day earlier in the tiny Moscow-backed province that was the focus of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war and Dzhioyeva vowed to continue the demonstrations until her victory was recognised.

"There will be mass protests and we will not go away," she said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

South Ossetia's patron Moscow has sent presidential administration official Sergei Vinokurov to the impoverished region in an attempt to calm tensions, but his closed-door talks with Dzhioyeva on Wednesday ended without results.

The security forces who still go by their Soviet-era name KGB have maintained a high-profile presence, with officers in camouflage uniforms armed with automatic rifles cordoning off government buildings.

Protesters however have entrenched their position in Tskhinvali's snow-covered central square, keeping warm by lighting bonfires and holding banners with slogans like "It's better to die standing than live on your knees".

Outgoing strongman leader Eduard Kokoity on Wednesday rejected an ultimatum from Dzhioyeva to reverse the annulment of her surprise poll victory last weekend over a Moscow-backed candidate.

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

© 2011 AFP

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