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Voting Underway in Breakaway Abkhazia
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 26 Aug.'11 / 12:53

170 polling stations opened at 8am local time in breakaway Abkhazia on August 26 where voters are electing the third leader of the region for a five-year term, Abkhaz news agency, Apsnipress, reported on Friday morning.

According to Apsnipress there are 143,735 registered voters in the region. Two additional polling stations are opened in Moscow and Cherkessk in neighboring Russia’s Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia.

About 24% of voters turned out at polling stations as of noon, according to the breakaway region’s central election commission.

Half of all registered voters must turn out for the election to be valid.

As of late July there were over 7,000 registered voters in predominantly ethnic Georgian populated Gali district, according to the Abkhaz central election commission; the number of registered voters in Gali district increased up to 10,000 as of election day. Only those residents of Gali are eligible to vote, who have Abkhaz passports.

Concerns have been voiced by two presidential candidates – Sergey Shamba and Raul Khajimba – about the voters list. They made a joint appeal to the Parliament to amend the law and impose limit on election day voter registration. Although the third candidate Alexander Ankvab, backed by the ruling party, acknowledged “shortcomings”, he refused to join the appeal saying that it was inappropriate to amend the election code just before the elections. The Parliament also rejected the appeal for the same reason.

On the eve of election day, Raul Khajimba’s campaign team released a statement accusing the authorities of preparing to rig the elections.

"All of our justified demands have been unfortunately ignored by the Parliament and CEC, which gives us a reason to suppose that through the use of administrative resources the authorities have no intention to hold objective and transparent elections," Khajimba's campaign team said.

Sergey Shamba said few days before the elections that he would not allow “cheating of voters”.

Russia said it “hope[s], that the election will be held in calm and democratic atmosphere.”

"I have no doubt, that no matter what the choice of the Abkhaz people is, the course of friendship with Russia will remain unchanged, because it is based on historic traditions and on the agreement on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia," Alexander Lukashevich, the Russian foreign ministry's spokesman, said at a news conference in Moscow on August 25.

According to the Abkhaz authorities several dozen of foreign observers arrived in the region to monitor the presidential election.

Maxim Gvinjia, the breakaway region’s foreign minister, said it was disappointing that international organizations refused to send their observers.

"Of course it upsets me very much that many international organizations have ignored these elections... We have not asked them to recognize Abkhazia with their arrival, but to give unbiased assessment of how the elections will be held," Gvinjia was quoted by RFE/RL’s Russian-language service, Ekho Kavkaza, on August 25.

"Many observers came here despite the international community's pressure. You know that Georgia has been undertaking efforts through European structures, exerting pressure on those, who were willing to come; but most of them arrived anyway," he said.

Tbilisi considers elections as "illegitimate", held "under the condition of occupation”.

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