Kremlin favourite thrashed in Moldova rebel vote: reports

TIRASPOL, Moldova - The candidate favoured by the Kremlin to lead Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr has suffered a humiliating defeat in run-off polls, reports said on Monday.

Anatoly Kaminsky, who was openly supported by the Kremlin, won only 23 percent of votes in Sunday's elections for "president" of Transdnistr compared with 74 percent for his opponent Yevgeny Shevchuk, initial results quoted by Russian state news agencies said.

The rest of the electorate voted against both candidates. Official results are due to be announced around 0800 GMT.

If confirmed by final results, it would be the second time in a month the Kremlin has failed to place the right bets in a disputed region's election: its candidate lost elections in Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia.

Shevchuk, a former speaker of parliament, will take over from Igor Smirnov who held it in a virtual Soviet time warp for two decades and who failed to reach the run-off after coming third in December 11's first round.

Russia's Kommersant daily said that in a sign of the Kremlin's support on the eve of the second round, Kaminsky's Renewal party had announced it had reached agreements with Russia on a financial aid package.

Smirnov's position had been fatally weakened after the Kremlin made it clear earlier this year that he no longer enjoyed its support and a Russian foreign ministry source told Kommersant that the main issue was to have a new leader.

"The main task has already been decided. Smirnov will no longer be president," the source said.

Shevchuk inherits an impoverished region notorious for organised crime whose independence has not been recognised, even by Russia. Russian peacekeepers are still deployed in Transdniestr and it is reliant on Moscow for economic aid.

The Russian-speaking region with a population of over 555,000 wedged between the Dniestr river and the border with Ukraine declared independence from Romanian-speaking Moldova in 1990 after a brief civil war.

Under Smirnov, a former trade unionist who bears more than a passing resemblance to Lenin, Transdniestr retained state symbols and insignia barely changed since the fall of the Soviet Union.