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Asia Crisis

FACTBOX-Key facts on rebel region of South Ossetia

May 31 (Reuters) - The Russian-backed rebel region of South Ossetia voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday that the opposition fear will cement the power of the province's leader, Eduard Kokoity.

The following are key facts on South Ossetia:

WAR

South Ossetia was recognised as an independent state by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in August 2008 after Russian forces repelled a Georgian attack on the tiny sliver of land.

Russian troops poured through South Ossetia and pushed deep into Georgian territory, provoking condemnation from the United States and European Union.

Nicaragua is the only other country to recognise South Ossetia. The rest of the world still considers it part of Georgia, which lost control over the province in a war in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union crumbled.

SEPARATISM

The collapse of the Soviet Union helped spur a separatist movement in South Ossetia, which has always felt more affinity with Russia than with Georgia.

It broke away from Georgian rule in a war in 1991-92 in which several thousand people died, and maintains close ties with the neighbouring Russian region of North Ossetia, on its northern border.

The majority of South Ossetians are ethnically distinct from Georgians, and speak their own language, related to Farsi.

South Ossetians say they were forcibly absorbed into Georgia under Soviet rule and trace their history to the Alans, a people who have lived in the Caucasus for thousands of years.

South Ossetians say the province's long-term future is as part of Russia. Almost all the population hold Russian passports. They use the Russian rouble as their currency.

ECONOMY

The economy, heavily reliant on Russian subsidies, has been badly hit by the war and the global economic crisis.

Russia has poured in money and says it will open a military base there, but local officials say not all of the promised 10 billion roubles ($319.3 million) that Moscow promised has made it to the region.

Thousands of people are still homeless after the war and the authorities say more than 15,000 people out of the 70,000 population are unemployed. The opposition say unemployment is far higher and that the population is just 30,000.

GOVERNMENT

The separatist leader is Eduard Kokoity, a former wrestler who was first elected in 2001. He was re-elected in 2006 and cannot run for a third consecutive term under current rules.

Opponents says Kokoity has crushed freedoms and rules South Ossetia as a personal fiefdom. They say dissenters are arrested and the country is poorly managed.

His supporters deny those claims and say Kokoity has led the region to independence after centuries of outside domination.

GEOGRAPHY

South Ossetia is a territory of around 1,500 sq miles (4,000 sq km) about 100 km (60 miles) north of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains.

Sources: Reuters, South Ossetian separatist government, Russian government

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