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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 16:55 GMT
Trans-Dniester winner's long game
By Petru Clej
BBC Romanian Service

Orchestra in polling station
Mr Smirnov (left) was greeted by an orchestra when he cast his vote
Igor Smirnov, who has been re-elected as president of the breakaway Trans-Dniester region of Moldova, never doubted his victory.

When he announced his intention to run for a new five-year term in office, he said he planned to retire only when Trans-Dniester had won international recognition.

Mr. Smirnov, 65, a settler from Russia, has been leader of the "Moldovan Dniester Republic" since 1990, the year the region proclaimed unilateral independence from Moldova.

His popularity was boosted in September, when a referendum called at his initiative resulted in a 97% vote in favour of joining Russia and a 94% vote against reintegration with Moldova.

No country has recognised the Moldovan Dniester Republic or its "independence" referendum, and none has recognised Sunday's presidential election.

But Russia has called the September referendum "free and fair" and a number of deputies in the Russian parliament, the State Duma, have called for recognition.

Growing apart

The Russian government has so far resisted such calls, but President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have accused the West of double standards, for accepting Montenegro's independence - and even Kosovo's, in theory - but not granting recognition to separatist regions in the former USSR.

We have chosen independence and development alongside Russia
Igor Smirnov
Mr Smirnov was in buoyant mood when he cast his vote in Tiraspol, on Sunday.

"I believe that in all these years it's become clear that our population has chosen its path, choosing in a referendum its strategic partner.

"This poll confirms that democracy cannot be imposed from outside, it is born in each society, and in Trans-Dniester's case, it's the same. We have chosen independence and development alongside Russia."

Critics might argue that the polls were not free and fair on the grounds that, by international standards, Trans-Dniester does not have a free press or a multi-party democracy.

Igor Smirnov seems to be playing a long-term game, waiting with patience for international recognition, knowing that he will always have in Russia a staunch supporter.

At the same time, the gulf between authorities in Chisinau and Tiraspol has been widening.

And after 16 years of separation the same can be said about the gulf between the two groups of population on the banks of the river Dniester.




SEE ALSO
EU targets Moldova smugglers
07 Apr 06 |  Europe
Trans-Dniester's surreal life
02 Sep 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Moldova
13 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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