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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
High turnout in Nagorno-Karabakh
Nagorno Karabakh voting
The turnout easily surpassed the one quarter needed to be valid
Large numbers of people are reported to have voted in presidential elections in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Separatist leaders hope this will be another step towards independence.

Azeri and Armenian forces fought a war over the territory in the 1990s, in which some 30,000 people died and more than a million people fled their homes.

Nagorno-Karabakh lies within Azerbaijan, which has condemned the elections as illegal.

Election officials in the tiny mountainous region said around two-thirds of the electorate had voted three hours before the polls closed at 2000 local time (1600 BST).

The poll was declared valid, since turnout was higher than the required one quarter of registered voters.

Preliminary results of the election, in which 91,000 people were eligible to vote, are expected on Friday.

Kosovo precedent

Any candidate who garners at least half the votes wins outright. The favourite is Bako Sahakyan, a former head of the security service, who was endorsed by the outgoing incumbent.

Bako Sahakyan
Bako Sahakyan, the frontrunner, is a former security chief

BBC's Matthew Collin reports from the capital Stepanakert, that the high turnout will be seen by the ethnic Armenian separatists, who have controlled Nagorno-Karabakh since the Azeri population fled during the war, as another sign of democratic progress.

Outgoing Karabakh leader, Arkady Gukasyan, told journalists in Stepanakert: "Nagorno-Karabakh has more arguments to acquire independence than Kosovo. If Kosovo receives independence, then it is unclear why Karabakh cannot follow suit."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has already said he considers Kosovo a special situation which does not set a precedent for Nagorno-Karabakh.

A spokesman at Azerbaijan's presidential administration said no country in the world recognises these elections as valid.

Azerbaijan says the separatist Armenian authorities came to power in Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of ethnic cleansing and that the enclave must not be allowed to break away.

Years of talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia have failed to deliver a peace deal.




SEE ALSO
Regions and territories: Nagorno-Karabakh
17 Jul 07 |  Country profiles

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