Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia tried again Sunday to elect a president after a disputed November election was annulled by a local court.

The four candidates were all new and none was considered a clear favorite. The apparent winner of the November vote, Alla Dzhioyeva, was legally barred from running again and her Kremlin-backed rival decided against a second attempt.

South Ossetia has close ties with Russia, which recognized it as an independent state after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war and still has troops there. The election was not expected to weaken those ties.

The four candidates competing Sunday were: Dmitry Medoyev, South Ossetia's envoy to Russia; former local KGB chief Leonid Tibilov; David Sanakoyev, the 35-year-old presidential human rights commissioner; and local Communist Party leader Stanislav Kochiyev.

Kochiyev was the only one to call for South Ossetia eventually to become part of Russia. The others support strengthening South Ossetia as an independent state, while maintaining good relations with Moscow. About 50,000 people live in the province.

To get on the ballot, all candidates had to show proficiency in both Russian and the Ossetian language. Fifteen other potential candidates failed the language test.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, a second round between the top two will be held within 15 days. Results were expected Monday.

Dzhioyeva, the former education minister, was the apparent winner in the second round of the November election, but a local court annulled her victory. Backed by thousands of protesting supporters, Dzhioyeva claimed victory anyway and set her inauguration for Feb. 10.

The inauguration was thwarted when police raided her headquarters that day and attempted to take her out for questioning. Dzhioyeva's blood pressure soared during the raid, her staff said, and she was hospitalized in serious condition. She was released only several days ago.

Her opponent was Anatoly Bibilov, the choice of the Kremlin and the outgoing leader, Eduard Kokoity, whom critics accused of embezzling Russian aid.

South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in a war in the early 1990s. Spiraling tensions between pro-Russian separatists and the Western-leaning Georgian government triggered the brief war in 2008. Only a handful of other countries have followed Russia in recognizing South Ossetia's independence, while a Georgian economic blockade and misappropriation of lavish Russian funds triggered inflation and left many unemployed.


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