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Uzbekistan: Karimov -- Referendum To Strengthen Democracy


Tashkent, 27 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov said today that the approval of a referendum extending the presidential term by two years would strengthen democracy in Uzbekistan. Election officials said today that about 83 percent of Uzbek voters had cast ballots by midday in the poll asking whether to extend the president's five-year term to seven years as well as whether to establish a bicameral parliament.

Human rights groups condemn the poll, calling it a ploy by the authoritarian president to prolong his grip on power.

But the chairman of the Uzbek electoral commission, Adurauf Akhadov, said even if the referendum passes, it may not apply to the current presidential term.

Karimov won elections in 1991 and 2000 and would be due to step down in 2005 under Uzbekistan's current constitution.

But casting his ballot this morning, Karimov did not rule out that he might run again or that the rules concerning the president might be changed.

Voters are also being asked whether the country's one chamber parliament should be enlarged to two chambers. Preliminary results are expected by tomorrow.

The referendum has been shunned by observers from the U.S. and criticized by human rights groups. The U.S. said it and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe feel that conditions for a free and fair vote are not currently present in the republic.

Karimov, who won elections in 1991 and 2000, is in theory due to step down in 2005, as he can only stand for two five-year terms under Uzbekistan's Constitution.

But casting his ballot this morning, Karimov did not rule out that he might run again or that the rules concerning the president might be changed.

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