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Ahead of Russian elections, quashed Ossetia vote embarrasses Moscow

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On Tuesday the republic's Supreme Court met behind closed doors and declared the polls null and void, citing "irregularities" that have yet to be spelled out. The decision barred Dzhioyeva from participating in any future elections.

In a move that some Russian analysts say Moscow will come to regret, Russia's Foreign Ministry subsequently issued an official statement endorsing the annulment of the election results, saying that Russia favors maintaining a "calm and stable situation" in South Ossetia.

Dzhioyeva's supporters took to the streets the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on Wednesday and Thursday to protest, bringing a tough response from riot police who fired shots into the air and physically prevented protesters from approaching government buildings. The Kremlin dispatched a special emissary, Sergei Vinokurov, to the region in hopes of negotiating a solution.

"The people have spoken; 17,000 voters [out of 28,000 registered voters in the tiny republic] supported me," said Dzhioyeva, reached by telephone in Tskhinvali on Thursday. "Both the official Central Election Commission, and international election observers [including Russian ones] declared our elections to be basically free and fair. That gives us grounds to believe that we have won."

But Russia, which fought a war with Georgia in 2008 to preserve the independence of South Ossetia and another rebel republic, does not appear to see things that way.

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