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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abkhazia Stumbles at Polls

SUKHUMI, Georgia -- Georgia's rebel region of Abkhazia failed to form a new parliament Sunday, electing only half of the necessary deputies, but separatists hailed the election as a further step away from Tbilisi.

Voters in Abkhazia elected 18 members of the 35-seat parliament, with another 17 seats to be contested in an election runoff in two weeks, the central election commission said.

Georgian troops fled the Black Sea province in the 1990s after a conflict with separatists. Russian-backed Abkhazia has declared independence, but Tbilisi wants to reassert control over it.

An international proposal to set Serbia's Kosovo province on the path to independence has boosted the Abkhaz separatists, with the Kremlin saying Kosovo could be a legal precedent for other aspiring states.

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said the election was yet another vindication of Abkhazia's willingness to live separately from Georgia.

"Abkhazia's parliamentary election has demonstrated its level of democracy, and the high activity of voters displayed their support for the building of an independent state."

Those elected to the new separatist legislature included the speaker of the outgoing parliament, Nugzar Ashuba. They also included five opposition candidates, though none calls into question Abkhazia's split from Tbilisi.

Runoffs will be held for the 17 seats where no candidate received a majority of the votes in Sunday's election. Georgia lost control over Abkhazia and another separatist province, South Ossetia, in the 1990s after bloody wars.

Finding a lasting settlement to the disputes is key to Georgia's ambition to join NATO, as no country has been admitted to the alliance while its domestic conflicts remain unresolved.