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Georgia: South Ossetia cancels referendum on joining Russia

In 2008 Russia and Georgia went to war over South Ossetia, after which the Kremlin recognised the territory as an independent state and established its military bases there.

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Tbilisi:  Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia cancelled plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia which was scheduled for July 17, by the previous leadership, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday.

In 2008 Russia and Georgia went to war over South Ossetia, after which the Kremlin recognised the territory as an independent state and established its military bases there.

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In a decree the Moscow-controlled enclave’s de facto President Alan Gagloev invoked “uncertainty of the legal consequences of the issue submitted to a referendum” and also stressed “the inadmissibility of a unilateral decision of a referendum on issues affecting the legitimate rights and interests of the Russian Federation”.

Gagloev ordered “to hold, without delay, consultations with the Russian side on the entire range of issues related to the further integration of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation”.

On May 13, Gagloev’s predecessor, Anatoly Bibilov, signed a decree on holding the referendum, citing the region’s “historic aspiration” to join Russia.

Bibilov lost his bid for re-election earlier this month and Russia had expressed hope that Gagloev will preserve “continuity” in ties with Moscow.

Tbilisi has previously denounced as “unacceptable” plans by South Ossetia to hold a referendum on joining Russia.

South Ossetia, which has just 50,000 inhabitants, broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s in a bloody civil war.

In August 2008, Russian forces launched an all-out invasion of Georgia, which was battling pro-Russian militias in South Ossetia, after they shelled Georgian villages, leading to a five day war which killed more than 700 people and tens of thousands being displaced. The war ended with a European Union-mediated ceasefire.

In the aftermath of the war Kremlin recognised the independence of South Ossetia and another separatist region, Abkhazia, which have since remained under Russia’s military control.

The conflict marked the culmination of tensions with the Kremlin over staunchly pro-Western Tbilisi’s bid to join the European Union and NATO.

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