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Breakaway Nagorny Karabakh elects new parliament

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(YEREVAN) - Residents of Azerbaijan's separatist region of Nagorny Karabakh went to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament in a vote denounced as illegitimate by Baku and the European Union.

For over two decades, the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over the territory -- which no country recognises as independent -- is a major source of tension in the strategic South Caucasus region wedged between Iran, Russia and Turkey.

"All polling stations opened at 8:00 am (GMT 0400). Elections are under way," Leonid Martirosyan, spokesman for Karabakh's central elections commission, told AFP.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan, which has threatened to retake the region by force, condemned the polls as illegal.

"The so-called 'elections' in Armenian-occupied Karabakh have no legal force, they contradict Azerbaijan's constitution and international law," the spokesman of Azerbaijan's foreign ministry, Hikmat Hajiyev, told AFP.

"Armenia stages a provocation called 'elections' which harms the ongoing negotiations."

The European Union also weighed in on the Karabakh poll this week.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said through a spokesperson on Friday that "the European Union does not recognise the constitutional and legal framework" within which the elections were to be held.

Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of Karabakh and several other districts of Azerbaijan during a 1990s war that left some 30,000 dead.

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