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Georgia's Separatist Abkhazia Heads To Runoff In 'Presidential Vote' Deemed 'Sham'

Incumbent separatist leader Raul Khajimba takes part in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia's "presidential election" at a polling station in Sukhumi on August 25.
Incumbent separatist leader Raul Khajimba takes part in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia's "presidential election" at a polling station in Sukhumi on August 25.

TBILISI -- Incumbent separatist leader Raul Khajimba and Alkhaz Kvitsiniya, head of the Amtsakhara opposition party, will face off in a runoff election in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

Separatist election authorities said on August 26 that results of the vote, which Georgia's president has called "a sham," show Khajimba and Kvitsiniya placed first and second, respectively.

"So far, we have not announced any figures after the first round. We have identified two leaders for the runoff election. Khajimba and Kvitsiniya have made it to the runoff," Abkhaz election supervisor Tamaz Gogia said, adding that further details will be provided later in the day at a news conference.

Interfax news agency quoted Gogia as saying the runoff would take place on September 8.

Election authorities say that 116,000 people were registered to vote on August 25 at 152 polling stations across Abkhazia, which Russia recognized as an independent country after fighting a brief war against Georgia in 2008.

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has called the election "a sham."

"The Abkhaz authorities are de facto holding the illegitimate presidential election today. Georgia condemns this sham process as one more violation of our national sovereignty," Zurabishvili wrote on Twitter.

Only a handful of countries have recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which make up around 20 percent of Georgian territory, and Moscow’s backing of the regions has drawn broad international condemnation.

This month marks the 11th anniversary of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia that resulted in the occupation by Russian military forces of the two separatist regions.

A group of more than a dozen Western countries has denounced the elections held by the Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia and previous votes in South Ossetia as illegal.

We “do not recognize the legitimacy of the so-called ‘presidential elections’ held in Georgia’s Abkhazia region by the de facto authorities in Sokhumi on August 25, 2019, and will not acknowledge their outcome,” an August 26 joint statement from the group, which includes Britain, Canada, and the United States, said.

“We reiterate our full support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders,” it added.

The vote in Abkhazia, where the president is chosen for five years, will be recognized as valid by the separatist authorities if at least 50 percent of eligible voters go to the polls.

Russia has maintained troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the 2008 war.

South Ossetia held parliamentary elections on June 9 that many Western countries have also called illegitimate.

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