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Page last updated at 22:20 GMT, Saturday, 12 December 2009

Breakaway Georgian region Abkhazia holds election

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Voters at polling stations across Abkhazia

Abkhazia has held its first presidential election since Russia recognised the breakaway Georgian region as an independent state.

Veteran leader Sergei Bagapsh was standing for re-election against four other candidates, all of whom support strong ties with Moscow.

Official results are due on Sunday with no independent exit polls available.

Most of the region's ethnic Georgians, who constitute almost one third of the population, were not eligible to vote.

Georgia, which disputes Abkhazia's independence, says the poll is illegal.

Since its brief war with Georgia last year over another disputed territory, South Ossetia, Russia provides security for Abkhazia and about 60% of its budget.

Correspondents say the challenge for Saturday's winner will be to persuade Western countries to recognise Abkhaz independence without isolating Georgia.

Struggle for recognition

The BBC's Tom Esslemont in the capital, Sukhumi, says Abkhazia has changed considerably since the last presidential election five years ago.

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It has been recognised as independent by Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

More importantly it is receiving far more Russian investment than it did before, our correspondent says.

All five presidential candidates say more should be done to attract Russian business and to seek recognition by other states.

But critics say Russia's intentions might not be straightforward and have warned the winner of these elections not to sell out to Moscow completely.

At least 130,000 people were registered to vote but, our correspondent says, an estimated 40,000 ethnic Georgians living in the region were mostly prevented from voting because they do not have Abkhaz passports.

And they are cut off from Georgia proper by a border controlled by Russian guards, he adds.



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