South Ossetia vote upset sparks protest

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Supporters of a female candidate headed for a surprise victory in polls to lead the rebel Georgian region of South Ossetia took to the streets Tuesday in protest at delayed results.

In a rare demonstration in the tiny Moscow-backed province that was the focus of the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, more than 1,000 supporters of ex-education minister Alla Dzhioyeva protested in the rundown main town Tskhinvali.

Some chanted "Victory! Victory!" as they rallied briefly in the central square before marching through the snow-covered streets.

"There are still forces in society that do not want to hand over the power that we deservedly won," Dzhioyeva told the demonstration, news agencies reported.

The region's supreme court has launched a hearing and banned further publication of results that put Dzhioyeva ahead for the rebel leadership over Kremlin-backed opponent Anatoly Bibilov after he alleged voting violations.

Quoting partial results, the election commission said Monday that Dzhioyeva had polled 56.7 percent in the second-round run-off against Bibilov, who won just 40 percent despite strong support from the region's patron Moscow.

Discontent had simmered before the election amid allegations of official embezzlement of Russian aid money intended to rebuild the impoverished region after its dilapidated Soviet-era buildings were further damaged by the 2008 war.

Whoever wins in the end will not however enjoy wide recognition as the "president" of South Ossetia, since the region is recognised as independent only by Russia and a handful of far-flung states after the 2008 war.

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

Georgia said fair elections were impossible on a territory "occupied" by Russian troops stationed there since the war, where most ethnic Georgian inhabitants had been expelled during the conflict.

"Georgia, as well as the international community, does not recognise the legitimacy of these so-called elections," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's spokeswoman Manana Manjgaladze told a news conference Tuesday.

The population of South Ossetia is also disputed, with the rebel authorities claiming 70,000 while Georgia says the figure is no more than 15,000.

© 2011 AFP

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