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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ossetia to Hold Vote on Independence

Leaders of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia said Monday that they would hold a referendum on independence in November -- a move that will likely infuriate Tbilisi and stoke already-spiraling tensions.

The announcement came as the self-proclaimed republic of Transdnestr was preparing to hold its own Sept. 17 referendum asking citizens whether they wanted to unite with Moldova, with Russia or to be independent.

Governments in both Georgia and Moldova have long sought to bring their respective regions back under central control. Both regions get strong support from Russia.

Eduard Kokoity, president of South Ossetia's unrecognized government, signed a decree Monday naming Nov. 12 as the date for the referendum, government spokeswoman Alyona Gabarayeva said.

Residents -- many of whom hold Russian passports -- will also be asked whether they support the policies of the region's leadership, she said.

Yury Sharandin, head of the Federation Council's constitutional law committee, said that if South Ossetians opted for independence, the question of annexing the region to Russia could be raised.

"I don't exclude this possibility since, historically, the people of South Ossetia were part of Russia, not of Georgia, and, from a legal perspective, we have documents that unquestionably confirm this fact," Sharandin told Interfax.

There was no immediate reaction by Georgian government officials to the announcement.

South Ossetia broke away from the central government following a war in the early 1990s and has sought to become part of Russia. Perpetually simmering tensions with Tbilisi have spiked in past weeks, most recently when South Ossetian forces fired on a helicopter carrying Georgia's defense minister and when Georgian police exchanged fire with South Ossetian forces.

The Montenegro referendum held earlier this year, in which Montenegro broke off from its union with Serbia, appeared to inspire many separatist regions in the former Soviet Union to call their own plebiscites. The Montenegro referendum, however, was held under an agreement with the central government and with international recognition, unlike the South Ossetia and Transdnestr referendums.

In a referendum just weeks after the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union, South Ossetia voted to break off from Georgia and unite with Russia.

(AP, MT)