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Separatist leader Bagapsh ‘re-elected’ in controversial poll

Separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh has won re-election in rebel Abkhazia in a vote considered illegitimate by most of the world but hailed by Russia, election officials said Sunday.


AFP - Separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh has won reelection in rebel Abkhazia in a vote considered illegitimate by most of the world but hailed by Russia, election officials said Sunday.

The rebel region's election commission, citing the first official results, said Bagapsh had taken 59.4 percent of Saturday's vote against 15.4 percent for his main challenger Raul Khajimba.

Abkhazia's top election official Batal Tabagua told a news conference:  "Sergei Vasilyevich Bagapsh has become president," referring to the winner by his full name.

By law, a candidate must receive 50 percent plus one vote to win in the first round and the result means there is no need for a second round.

The opposition, which has complained of widespread fraud, had hoped to force Bagapsh into a run-off.

Khajimba, Bagapsh's former vice president, said he would contest the results. "There were irregularities at every polling station," Khajimba told AFP.

"I will submit a complaint to the Central Election Commission and will also go to court."

Bagapsh and Khajimba were opponents in Abkhazia's last presidential election in 2004, which ended with both sides claiming victory, a standoff that was resolved with a power-sharing deal that made Bagapsh president and Khajimba his deputy.

Some in the rebel region's capital Sukhumi said a repeat of the 2004 standoff between the two men would be unlikely.

"I believe everything is calm in the city," Mziana Kiut, an election observer, told AFP. "These polls were much more positive than the election of the head of state in 2004."

The rebel region's opposition complained of widespread fraud, while Russian election observers praised high voter turnout.

No major international organisations monitored Abkhazia's polls, and only Russia and Venezuela sent observers in an official capacity.

"The election was fair," Venezuelan election monitor Ricardo Abud told AFP. "The opposition complained about some things, but this happens everywhere," said Abud, a diplomat from Caracas and one of two official observers sent by Venezuela.

Russia maintains the election is evidence that Abkhazia is an independent democratic state ready to join the international community.

The election, in which Bagapsh had been expected to win a second term, was Abkhazia's first presidential vote since Russia recognised the region as independent in August last year after a brief war with Georgia.

All the presidential candidates in the five-way race were strongly opposed to reunification with Georgia.

Georgia reiterated its condemnation of the vote.

"Any election in Russian-occupied Abkhazia is illegitimate due to the fact that the 80 percent of the pre-war population of Abkhazia has been driven out by two decades of ethnic cleansing," the Georgian government said in a statement.

Asked to comment on Bagapsh's victory, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili told AFP: "It is irrelevant who wins in these so-called elections. Personnel changes in the proxy regime have no particular importance."

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