TSKHINVALI, S. Ossetia (Reuters) – The Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia said on Monday that an election there vindicated its independence, but the European Union echoed Georgia in denouncing the poll as illegal.
A sliver of land with an official population of 70,000, South Ossetia declared independence from Georgian rule in early 1990s as the Soviet Union crumbled.
The vote on Sunday for a 34-seat assembly was its first election since Russian forces prevented a Georgian military attempt to retake the region last August.
“This was an expression of the will of our people,” South Ossetia’s pro-Moscow leader Eduard Kokoity declared defiantly after official results gave three parties backing him a huge win.
“Our republic, our statehood, have passed a new test for maturity. As you all could see, the situation is absolutely calm and stable in our republic.”
But the EU, which mediated last August to end the five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia, said it did not “accept the legality of the ‘elections’, nor its results”.
“The holding of such elections is illegitimate and represents a setback in the search for a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia,” said the Czech Republic, current EU president.
“The EU reiterates its firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.”
South Ossetia’s independence has so far been recognized only by Russia, which supports it financially, and Nicaragua.
Official data showed three parties loyal to Kokoity scored together over 90 percent of votes. Unity party led with more than 46 percent, trailed by the Communists and People’s Party with more than 20 percent each. Turnout was about 82 percent.
The opposition Fatherland Socialist party, critical of Kokoity, scored less than 7 percent of all votes and will not be represented.
The opposition says Kokoity, a 44-year-old former wrestler, wants to manipulate the parliament to stay on for a third term as president. It accuses him of crushing dissent and squandering funds sent by Moscow for post-war rebuilding.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia — another breakaway Georgian region — as independent states after its five-day war with Georgia in August last year.