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U.S. Condemns South Ossetia Name-Change Referendum

South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov has signed a decree scheduling a referendum on changing the name of the Georgian breakaway region.
South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov has signed a decree scheduling a referendum on changing the name of the Georgian breakaway region.

The U.S. Embassy in Georgia has condemned plans by separatist authorities in South Ossetia for a referendum on a proposed name change for the Russia-backed breakaway region.

Along with a presidential election on April 9, the separatists who control South Ossetia plan to hold a plebiscite on a proposal to rename the region the Republic of South Ossetia -- the State of Alania.

In a statement on its website on February 14, the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi said the United States would not recognize the results of an "illegitimate" referendum conducted "without the explicit consent" of the Georgian government.

"Such provocative actions erode trust and confidence and undermine the Geneva International Discussions," it said -- a reference to talks to ease tension that persists years after Russian forces invaded Georgia in a brief war over South Ossetia in 2008.

South Ossetia's separatist leader, Leonid Tibilov, signed a decree on February 6 scheduling the referendum.

Georgia considers the proposed name provocative because it echoes the name of a neighboring Russian region that is also populated mainly by ethnic Ossetians, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, seeming to suggest the two should be unified.

Tibilov stopped short of calling for referendum on a merger of South Ossetia and North Ossetia, an idea he floated a few years ago.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another separatist region in Georgia, Abkhazia, as independent countries after the 2008 war. It has kept thousands of troops in the regions, deployments that NATO says violate the EU-brokered deal that ended the fighting.

The United States and all but a handful of countries consider South Ossetia or Abkhazia to be parts of Georgia and do not recognize the results of elections held in the two regions.

With reporting by
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