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Russia Urges Georgia, West Not to Belittle S Ossetia Referendum
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Russia on Monday called the referendum on independence for Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia a "milestone" and urged Georgia and Western countries not to underestimate its importance.

Preliminary results showed that 99 percent of the voters in Sunday's referendum backed independence for South Ossetia, the Itar-Tass news agency quoted the local election chief as saying on Monday.

"Like it or not, we face the expression of the free will of South Ossetians through democratic procedures. No matter how hard Georgia or some Western countries may try to scale down the importance of the event, it is nevertheless a milestone," the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement.

"It would be short-sighted, to say the least, to ignore the event," the statement said.
South Ossetia broke away from Georgia's central government in the early 1990s. The region previously held referenda on independence in 1992 and 2001, but their results were not recognized by the international community.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring South Ossetia and another breakaway region Abkhazia back under Tbilisi's control. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has said the presidential election and the referendum in South Ossetia were unlawful.

The European Union (EU) said on Monday that the EU does not recognize the outcome of the referendum in South Ossetia.

The EU's current presidency Finland issued a statement saying Sunday's referendum "contradicts Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"The European Union considers that the referendum and the elections did not contribute to efforts for peaceful conflict resolution," the statement said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 14, 2006)

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