Sat, 21 Sep 2019

TBILISI -- The breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia is holding a 'presidential election' on August 25 in which incumbent separatist leader Raul Khadzhimba is facing eight challengers, according to local election officials.

Separatist election authorities say that 116,000 people are registered to vote in 152 polling stations across Abkhazia, which Russia recognized as an independent country after fighting a brief war against Georgia in 2008.

Tbilisi and Western countries have denounced previous elections held by Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia and another Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia, as illegal.

The vote in Abkhazia, where the president is chosen for five years, will be recognized as valid by the separatist authorities if at least 50 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. A candidate needs to gain more than a half of the electors' votes to win in the first round and avoid a runoff.

This month marks the 11th anniversary of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia, after which Tbilisi lost its Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

Only a handful of countries have recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which make up around 20 percent of Georgian territory, and Moscow's backing of the regions has drawn broad international condemnation.

Russia has maintained troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the war.

On August 8, the United States and six European countries -- Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, and Britain -- issued a joint statement reiterating support for Georgia's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. It also urged Moscow to withdraw its military forces to the positions held before hostilities broke out.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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