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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Says Separatist Abkhazia Vote Illegitimate

Russia's Foreign Ministry Monday denounced as illegitimate the weekend election in Georgia's separatist Abkhazia region, saying it took no account of the interests of refugees unable to return to their homes.

Officials in the Black Sea region, which declared independence in 1991, were counting ballots after Saturday's local election but have yet to declare the results.

Georgia has already criticised the poll, and the U.N. Security Council and the Council of Europe raised objections before it took place.

The Russian statement said the vote took place "with the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict unresolved and along with it the situation of much of the population of Abkhazia forced to live outside its territory as refugees.

"The Russian Foreign Ministry therefore believes that the staging of such an election was illegitimate, untimely and unhelpful in the search by parties to the conflict to find mutually acceptable solutions to their problems," it said.

Abkhaz forces drove out Georgian troops in a 1992-93 war in which about 10,000 people were killed, but no country has recognised the province as an independent state. About a quarter of a million people, mainly ethnic Georgians, were forced from their homes and fled the region.

Georgia has raised similar objections in the past to parliamentary and presidential elections in Abkhazia.

Russia maintains a force of 1,500 peacekeepers patrolling Abkhazia's border with the rest of Georgia.

Russia's relations with Georgia have been strained in the post-Soviet era by Tbilisi's suggestions that Moscow surreptitiously helped Abkhaz separatists.

Moscow earlier this year obliged Georgian citizens to obtain entry visas for Russia, but excluded from the ruling residents of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another separatist region outside the Georgian government's control.