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Abkhazia opposition leader wins election, wants stronger ties with Russia

Political opposition leader Raul Khadzhimba won in a presidential election in Abkhazia, a region whose claim to independence is disputed by Georgia and its allies, and he will be inaugurated in 30 days, Acting Abkhazian President and parliament speaker Valery Bganba, said on Monday.

Bganba told ITAR-TASS he was satisfied that Sunday's snap presidential election in the Black Sea region, which seceded from Georgia after a war in the early 1990s, was held without any gross violations which could affect the outcome.

Khadzhimba won 50.57% of the votes, clearly beating his main rival Aslan Bzhania, the region's security services chief, who got 35.91%, the election commission said on Monday. The two other candidates - Defence Minister Merab Kishmaria and former interior minister Leonid Dzapshba - got 6.4 and 3.4% respectively.

Turnout among the region's nearly 130,000 registered voters was almost 70%, according to the election commission's statement.

Commission's head Batal Tabagua told journalists that the election commission also recognized Khadzhimba's presidential running mate Vitaly Gabnia as vice-president of the republic.

Raul Khadzhimba's, 56, the leader of the oppositional Forum of the National Unity of Abkhazia and one of the key figures behind demonstrations in late May, which led to the resignation of then incumbent president Alexander Ankvab.

He ran, unsuccessfully, in three previous presidential polls losing the race twice to Sergey Bagapsh and once to Ankvab in 2011. In various years he headed the cabinet of ministers and held the post of vice-president.

Vitaly Gabnia, 46, Chairman of the Aruaa organization uniting veterans of the 1992-1993 Georgian-Abkhaz war that ended in Georgia's loss of control over the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Khadzhimba on Monday on his victory.

In a greetings telegram Putin expressed the hope that "Khadzhimba's work in his new post will help to achieve national consensus, ensure political stability within the country, and help to effectively resolve the socioeconomic development tasks that Abkhazia faces today".

The president reaffirmed Russia's "readiness to work closely together to continue strengthening the friendly ties between Russia and Abkhazia and develop mutually advantageous bilateral cooperation in various areas".

Khadzhimba said he wanted to deepen ties with Russia, noting "the need to strengthen this union".

"The union of Russia and Abkhazia is a necessity and our requirement, since the processes happening around us are very important, and we should not get lost," he said.

Khadzhimba also said he was not surprised that Ukraine's Foreign Ministry refused to recognize the recent presidential election in the republic.

"Ukraine has its own position, and it is not surprising, I think," he said. "The time will come when everything will be wholly different."

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on Monday Kiev "does not recognize the legitimacy" of the presidential election in Abkhazia, which were reportedly held "in contradiction principles of international law, values of democracy and human rights", according to the statement published after the election. The ministry reaffirmed Ukraine's "full support for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia" and its "policy of non-recognition" of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The European Union said on Monday that it did not recognize "the constitutional and legal framework within which these elections have taken place".

Situated on the north-western Black Sea coast, Abkhazia sought independence from Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Deterioration of relations between Georgia and Abkhazia reached its peak in the 1990s and led to armed clashes that left about 20,000 people killed. In 1994, Abkhazia adopted its own constitution and declared independence from Georgia. A referendum in 1999 supported the republic's statehood, but it was never accepted by the international community.

In early August 2008 when Georgia attacked South Ossetia, Abkhazia backed Russia's operation to coerce Georgia into peace and asked Moscow to recognize its sovereignty. After the 2008 conflict, Moscow declared that it would formally recognize the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Venezuela, Nicaragua and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru followed suit in recognizing Abkhazia, but the rest of the world considers both territories part of Georgia.

[Source: Itar Tass, Sukhum, 25Aug14]

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