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Polls Close In Breakaway Georgian Republic

23 May 2004 -- Polls have closed in Georgia's breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, where voters cast their ballots today to elect a new local parliament.

The balloting comes amid heightened tension with the country's central authorities.

South Ossetia is one of two Georgian provinces that continue to defy Tbilisi's rule. But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, after recently reimposing central authority over another rebellious region -- the Adjar Autonomous Republic -- has reiterated his determination to unite all of the country.

The self-styled leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyty, said today that his region will never bow to Tbilisi's wishes. Laying flowers at a monument to "Georgian Aggression" in the regional capital Tskhinvali, he said his main aim is to ensure that South Ossetia becomes a part of the Russian Federation.

Results of the parliamentary voting are expected on 24 May.