TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — A former KGB chief on Monday scored a victory in the runoff presidential election in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia that has been roiled by a political crisis over presidential succession.
A full vote count showed Leonid Tibilov won with 54.1 percent of the vote, local Election Commission Secretary Irina Gassiyeva said. His rival, David Sanakoyev trailed with 42.6 percent and conceded the race.
Tibilov, 60, is a former KGB officer who became South Ossetia's security minister in 1992, shortly after the mountainous province the size of Rhode Island broke away from Georgia in a war.
As the armed conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the central Georgian government simmered in the 1990s, Tibilov held several top government jobs, including that of a deputy prime minister.
Spiraling tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia triggered the August 2008 war, in which Russian troops routed the Georgian military in five days of fighting. The war sent Moscow's ties with the West to Cold War levels.
Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, remains a source of tensions between Moscow and Washington. Only a handful of other countries have recognized the independence of the separatist provinces.
Tibilov told the Voice of Russia radio station he will push for greater integration with Russia.
The republic of less than 50,000 first tried to elect a new president in November, when former education minister and anti-corruption crusader Alla Dzhioyeva appeared to have beaten a rival, backed by the Kremlin and the former local president.
But the results were disputed and a local court ordered a new vote. Dzhioyeva was barred from running in the new election.
Tibilov won over 40 percent of the vote in the first round last month.
The central Georgian government in Tbilisi called the election illegitimate.
A Georgian economic blockade and misappropriation of Russia's generous aid have left South Ossetian economy in shambles with widespread poverty and massive unemployment.
Critics accused the government of former President Eduard Kokoity of embezzling Russian donations, while thousands of South Ossetians continue to live in half-destroyed houses and apartment buildings with irregular water and electricity supplies.