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Russia Hails Pro-Moscow Candidate's Victory In Moldova's Gagauzia

Moscow has hailed the victory of a pro-Russian politician in the regional leader's poll in Moldova's autonomous territory of Gagauzia.

In a statement on March 24, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the election of Irina Vlah as Gagauzia's bashkan, or governor, indicated that most Gagauzia residents support "further developing their traditionally close ties with the Russian Federation."

Gagauzia's Central Election Commission said Vlah won the March 22 election with 51 percent of the vote -- just enough to avoid a runoff.

On March 23, Vlah told reporters in the regional capital, Comrat, that her priorities will include "strengthening regional ties with [regions] of the Russian Federation, constructive work with Moldova’s central government, and the economic revival of Gagauzia."

Gagauzia, most of whose 160,000 people are Turkic-speaking Christians, enjoys economic autonomy but has Moldovan police, schools, and courts.

Last year, Gagauzia held a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly chose closer ties with Russia and opposition to Moldova-EU integration.

Vlah, who was a lawmaker in Moldova's parliament, automatically becomes a member of the government.

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