Voters in South Ossetia are casting ballots for a new leader for the first time since Russia recognized that breakaway Georgian region's independence following a brief war with Georgia in 2008.
Eleven candidates are competing for the presidency of the tiny self-declared state in the Caucasus Mountains.
Georgia says the vote is illegitimate and that Russia is occupying its territory in violation of a European Union-brokered cease-fire.
Incumbent Eduard Kokoity, a former wrestling champion who has dominated South Ossetia for a decade, is barred from running for a third term.
Moscow is backing the apparent front-runner, Emergency Situations Minister Anatoly Bibilov. He has promised to stop the embezzlement of Russian funds for reconstruction after the war with Georgia and supports South Ossetia's merger with Russia.
"The main thing is that [South] Ossetia has a good and happy future for these children who are now casting ballots," Bibilov told reporters after after voting, accompanied by his wife and children.
The main opposition candidate, former Education Minister Alla Djioyeva, supports preserving the region's quasi-independence and has stumped for a crackdown on endemic corruption.
Whoever wins will inherit other deep-seated problems, including the lack of recognition for South Ossetia around the world. Apart from Russia, only two South American states and a tiny Pacific island nation recognize the region.
compiled from agency reports