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Page last updated at 07:45 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 08:45 UK

Disputed South Ossetia holds poll

Eduard Kokoity casts his ballot in Tskhinvali, 31 May 2009
Some say the poll is an opportunity for Kokoity to tighten his grip on power

Elections have taken place in South Ossetia, the disputed breakaway northern region of Georgia.

The polls were the first to be held since last year's brief war over the territory between Georgia and Russia.

Georgia regards the elections as illegal; it sees the territory as still part of Georgian sovereign territory.

Some observers said the poll was an opportunity for the South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, to tighten his grip on power.

Only a few hundred ethnic Georgians remain in South Ossetia - a mountainous region of 70,000 people north of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi - and there was only one Georgian on the list of parliamentary candidates.

An estimated 18,000 ethnic Georgians fled the region following the war.

Exaggerated figures?

With just 34 seats at stake, Sunday's elections, though small, were important for the self-proclaimed republic, says the BBC's Tom Esslemont in Tbilisi.

They were also a test of democracy in a region financially dependent on Russia, our correspondent adds.

Moscow recognised South Ossetia's declaration of independence after the conflict with Georgia last August. Nicaragua is the only other country to have done so.

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The central election commission said 45,000 people were registered to vote in Sunday's polls, though some analysts said this was a vast exaggeration.

One Russian newspaper, Vremya Novostey, suggested the discrepancy would provide an opportunity for Eduard Kokoity's Unity party to rig the vote, which officials denied.

Much of South Ossetia remains battle-scarred after last summer's conflict and some residents say the pace of rebuilding has been slow, our correspondent says.

A coalition of opposition parties has accused Mr Kokoity of embezzling Russian aid money - a claim he denies.

Meanwhile, a month of controversial Nato military exercises are drawing to an end in Georgia.

Russia has condemned the exercises as "provocative".

The drills have been taking place close to South Ossetia where Russian troops remain based following the war.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have remained at a low ebb in the wake of the conflict.



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