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Nagorno-Karabakh Votes For New President --> Voting in Nagorno-Karabakh today (Photolur) July 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Voters in Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh headed to the polls today to elect a successor to outgoing President Arkady Ghukasian.

Speaking to journalists in Stepanakert today, Ghukasian said that "the person who will be elected president by the people of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh should take full responsibility. I'm sure that Karabakh will stand on very firm ground and that the next elected president will fulfill the role entrusted to him with honor."

Early Turnout

Election officials said voter turnout had reached 24.5 percent three hours after the polls opened today. At least 25 percent of all eligible voters have to participate for the election to be valid.

Of the five candidates, the front-runner is Bako Sahakian, the former chairman of Nagorno-Karabakh's National Security Service, who is backed by the separatist republic's ruling party as well as its two major opposition parties.

"We will continue our constructive policy and we hope it becomes the basis for the future recognition of the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh by the international community," Sahakian told RFE/RL today in Stepanakert.

No country currently recognizes the independence of the self-declared, predominantly ethnic-Armenian republic within Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has condemned the elections as illegal and illegitimate.

Likewise, no international organizations, including GUAM and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), consider today's elections to be legitimate.

Seeking Recognition

Undeterred, the deputy head of Nagorno-Karabakh's Foreign Ministry, Masis Mailian, told RFE/RL today in Stepanakert that "we're holding elections not for the international community, but for our people, first and foremost, so everything should be done in accordance with the law."

"This will let us demand recognition of our election and our republic in the future. We want the civilized world to recognize us, so we should be civilized and law-abiding ourselves," Mailian added.

Polls are scheduled to remain open until 8 p.m., local time.

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