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CHISINAU, March 22. /TASS/. The voter turnout at the Sunday elections of the governor of Gagauzia, an autonomous entity in southern Moldova, was 58.1%, the Gagauz Central Election Commission told TASS citing preliminary results.
According to unofficial data, Irina Vlakh, an independent candidate supported by the Party of Socialists who stands for closer relations with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States /CIS/, is leading the race. She is followed by former mayor of the Gagauz capital city Comrat Nikolai Dudoglo and former head of Gagauzia Dmitry Kraitor.
If neither of them scores more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election will be appointed.
The canvassing campaign in Gagauzia, which traditionally favours closer relations with Russia, was held on the backdrop of confrontation with the Moldovan authorities, which have embarked on a course towards integration into the European Union. In February 2014, Gagauzia held a referendum, where 98% of voters spoke in favour of integration into the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia. Chisinau declared the Gagauz referendum illegitimate and opened criminal cases against its organizers.
The Gagauz people live mainly in southern Moldova and in areas adjacent to Ukraine. They speak the Gagauz language and are Orthodox Christians. Some theories say the Gagauz people descend from the Turks who settled in the Eastern Balkans /Bulgaria/.
Gagauzia received the status of an autonomous region in 1994 following the Moldovan parliament’s decision. This allowed resolving the Gagauz problem in a peaceful way. The problem emerged in late 1980s when the Gagauz citizens proclaimed independence. Chisinau said the move was illegal and in November 1990 armed volunteers led by Prime Minister Mircea Druc were sent there to suppress the independence supporters. The bloodshed was prevented by the Interior Ministry’s forces deployed there by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.