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Incumbent president wins Abkhazia vote

Abkhazia’s electoral commission says incumbent president Sergey Bagapsh won 59% of the vote in a race with four other candidates.

Over 70% of the 130,000 registered voters took part in the vote, the electoral commission said. The final results of the vote will be announced in two days time.

The republic was voting for a new president for the first time since it was recognized by Russia as an independent state after last August's military conflict in South Ossetia.

International observers monitoring the elections say they have not registered any major violations.

The re-elected president of the Black Sea republic told RT that this year’s election campaign was not very tough because it was properly organized.

Bagapsh named the economy as a cornerstone of Abkhazia’s independence.

“The next five years will be a period of economic growth for our republic and its recognition by the international community – something we very much hope for,” he said.

The Abkhazian leader said there will be no change in the political course of the republic because “people do not simply choose a president – people choose his political course.”

Bagapsh said that Abkhazia is ready for political dialogue with any country, but expressed common opinion that it is unlikely to happen with the current leadership of Georgia.

“If there is another leadership in Georgia that is willing to have a dialogue and understands today’s reality that Abkhazia is a recognized independent country – we are ready for such a dialogue and will not build another Great Wall of China between us and Georgia,” declared Abkhazian leader.

Sergey Bagapsh thanked all the countries that sent their monitors to the Abkhazian election “because they had an opportunity to see for themselves what Abkhazia is and what kind of democratic development and what kind of country we are building here.”

There have been five candidates competing for office in the relatively small Caucasus republic, which has a population of 200,000. Along with current leader Sergey Bagapsh, there are people representing several opposition movements and political parties, among them wealthy entrepreneurs, candidates with a scientific background and war veterans who are supported by many on the basis of the republic’s long-running war of independence against Georgia.

“The election can be declared valid,” said Aida Ashuba from the Sukhum District Election Committee. “By 4 p.m. more than half of the electorate voted. This is our first election as an independent state. So we are excited that it is a success.”

The election garnered unprecedented international media attention. There were journalists and TV news crews from France, the US, Austria, Poland, and many other countries that still consider Abkhazia part of Georgia.

“This is the first time our country is voting in the presidential elections as an independent, democratic and recognized state, which means a lot for the voters,” said Bagapsh. “These elections should demonstrate the readiness of our society to become a truly democratic and lawful state, which means undertaking more responsibility.”

Two polling stations also opened in Moscow to allow local Abkhazian citizens to cast their vote. More 1,200 people have turned out since voting started at 08:00 Moscow time (05:00 GMT) on Saturday.

Abkhazia has had recent backing from Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela – the three countries which have recognized its independence following Georgia’s war with South Ossetia.

Eighty-three international observers were invited to monitor the election in Abkhazia. Many of them agree it is unlikely to turn turbulent and tragic like the previous vote of 2004, when there were violent clashes between supporters of the two main candidates.

Some observers say there is now a better chance for recognition of Abkhazia by the international community.

“I think that once the elections are over and if all of the international observers report that things happened democratically and transparently, that will increase the chances of countries around the world recognizing Abkhazia,” said international observer Kerry McLean.

Government officials claim they have done their best to provide security and prevent provocations. There has not been any significant increase in military or police presence.

More than 3,000 Russian troops are stationed in the republic in accordance with bilateral Russian-Abkhazian agreements.

Russia was the first to recognize Abkhazia. It guarantees the security and sovereignty of the state and also supports it financially and economically. Currently, 90% of investment in the local economy comes from Russian companies.