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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bagapsh Re-elected as Abkhaz Leader

APRaul Khadzhimba, left, and Sergei Bagapsh voting at polling stations in Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhumi, on Saturday.

SUKHUMI — The elections commission in Georgia’s separatist region of Abkhazia said Sunday that incumbent Sergei Bagapsh has won a second term as president.

Georgia’s National Security Council denounced the election in the Russia-backed region as illegitimate and amoral.

The Abkhaz elections commission said a preliminary official tally showed Bagapsh won 59.37 percent of the vote in a race with four other candidates.

His main challenger, Raul Khadzhimba, who won 15.44 percent, and two other candidates decried what they called widespread violations in Saturday’s vote. Khadzhimba warned that “these violations may result in serious tensions.”

A Russian senator praised the election. “The republic passed with dignity the test posed by elections in any state,” said Vasily Likhachev, deputy head of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council. “The elections in Abkhazia showed the role and significance of such an important factor as national sovereignty.”

Khadzhimba ran against Bagapsh in 2004 and also refused to recognize that result. Hundreds of his supporters stormed the region’s highest court, and the body annulled its ruling declaring Bagapsh the winner. After Russia-brokered talks, a new election was held with Khadzhimba as Bagapsh’s running-mate; he resigned as vice president in May.

Abkhazia spun out of Georgia’s control in fighting in the early 1990s. After the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, Moscow recognized Abkhazia and another separatist region, South Ossetia, as independent. Only Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed suit.

If he is confirmed in office, Bagapsh’s main tasks will include boosting the economy of the region, which was once a popular tourist destination for its subtropical beaches and soaring mountains but has been battered by war and isolated by Georgia.

Unlike some officials in South Ossetia, Bagapsh appears to have no interest in eventual unification with Russia, but he cultivates close relations with Moscow. “The voters supporting my candidacy voted for a course aimed at closer relations with Russia and consequently for strengthening the security of our republic and the development of Abkhazia’s economy,” Bagapsh said Sunday, Interfax reported.

About 70 percent of the 130,000 registered voters took part in the vote, the elections commission said.

The province is also home to some 40,000 ethnic Georgians who are not eligible to vote because they do not hold Abkhaz passports.

“Any kind of elections which take place in a context that is the result of ethnic cleansing … are not only illegitimate but amoral and cynical in their essence,” said Eka Tkeshelashvili, head of the Georgian National Security Council. “Abkhazia is a part of Georgian territory. Any elections that don’t correspond with the laws of Georgia are illegal.”

Although the fighting in last year’s war was focused on South Ossetia, Abkhaz forces with help from the Russian military succeeded in pushing Georgian troops out of the last bit of territory that they held in Abkhazia.