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Pro-Moscow Parties Win Poll In Rebel Georgian Region

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity votes in Tskhinvali on May 31.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Parties supporting the pro-Moscow leader of Georgia's rebel South Ossetia province won parliamentary elections by a landslide, the region's chief spokeswoman has said.

The May 31 vote, denounced by Georgia as illegal, is the region's first election since Russian forces repelled a Georgian attempt to retake the region by force last August and pushed deep into Georgian territory.

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity has hailed the election as a vindication of South Ossetia's independence -- recognized only by Russia and Nicaragua.

"Preliminary results show Unity is leading, followed by the Communists and the People's Party," South Ossetia's minister for press and information, Irina Gagloyeva, told Reuters by telephone from the region's capital, Tskhinvali.

All three parties support Kokoity, a 44-year-old former wrestler. Official results will be published later on June 1, she said, adding: "Turnout was at least 75 percent."

The opposition Fatherland Socialist Party, which is harshly critical of Kokoity, finished a distant fourth.

"No major violations were registered," Gagloyeva said, responding to earlier opposition speculation that Kokoity would rig the vote to change the constitution to allow him to seek a third term. "Journalists and numerous observers could see this."

"As for the opposition, it only sees what it wants to see," she said. "This is their daily bread -- to talk about things that never happened."

Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- another rebel Georgian region -- as independent states after its five-day war with Georgia in August last year.

The opposition says Kokoity has crushed dissent and squandered the funds sent by Moscow for rebuilding.