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13:48 GMT +3 hours19 December 2014
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South Ossetia residents go to polls to elect new president

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Residents of the former Georgian region of South Ossetia are going to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president.

Residents of the former Georgian region of South Ossetia are going to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president.

Incumbent President Eduard Kokoity has served two terms and is barred by the republic's constitution from serving a third consecutive term in office.

Polling stations opened at 08:00 a.m. Moscow time (05:00 GMT) and will close at 20:00 Moscow time (17:00 GMT). Preliminary results of the voting will be announced on Monday.

Some 50,000 eligible voters in South Ossetia will have to choose among 11 candidates running for the president's office. The republic's central electoral commission registered 17 candidates but six of them eventually withdrew their bids.

South Ossetian Emergencies Minister Anatoly Bibilov is seen as the candidate with the highest chances to win the election.

The presidential elections in South Ossetia will be recognized as valid, if over 50 percent of eligible voters take part in the polls. A winner must gain 50 percent plus one vote. If no candidate gains a majority of votes, a runoff election will be held no later than 15 days after the results of the first round are announced.

Some 80 foreign observers from different countries, including Russia, Poland, Germany and France, and international organizations are monitoring the elections.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and another former Georgina region - Abkhazia - in 2008, following a five-day war with Georgia. The war began when Georgia attacked South Ossetia, where most residents are Russian passport holders.

Russia's decision has been condemned by many nations. Georgia considers the two regions part of its sovereign territory.