Georgia's Separatist Abkhazia Holds 'Presidential Vote' Denounced By Tbilisi
By RFE/RL's Georgian Service August 25, 2019
TBILISI -- The breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia has held a "presidential election" which the government in Tbilisi has called "another illegal action."
Incumbent separatist leader Raul Khadzhimba faced eight challengers on August 24, according to local election officials.
Separatist election authorities say that 116,000 people are registered to vote in 152 polling stations across Abkhazia, which Russia recognized as an independent country after fighting a brief war against Georgia in 2008.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called the election "a sham."
"The Abkhaz authorities are de facto holding the illegitimate presidential election today. Georgia condemns this sham process as one more violation of our national sovereignty," Zurabishvili wrote on Twitter.
Georgia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the move was "another illegal action directed against Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
The statement also called on Russia to revoke its recognition of Abkhazia and Georgia's other breakaway region, South Ossetia.
Yelena Labakua, a spokeswoman for the separatist entity's election commission, said voter turnout topped 50 percent.
Only a handful of countries have recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which make up around 20 percent of Georgian territory, and Moscow's backing of the regions has drawn broad international condemnation.
This month marks the 11th anniversary of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia that resulted in the occupation of the two separatist regions by Russian military forces.
Tbilisi and Western countries have denounced previous elections held by Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia and another Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia, as illegal.
The vote in Abkhazia, where the president is chosen for five years, will be recognized as valid by the separatist authorities if at least 50 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. A candidate needs to gain more than a half of the electors' votes to win in the first round and avoid a runoff.
Russia has maintained troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the 2008 war.
On August 8, the United States and six European countries -- Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, and Britain -- issued a joint statement reiterating support for Georgia's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. It also urged Moscow to withdraw its military forces to the positions held before hostilities broke out.
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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