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Kyrgyzstan: Demonstrators Protest Election Results By Blocking Key Road

Demonstrations took place against the announced results of last Sunday's presidential election in Kyrgyzstan. Protesters blocked the country's key north-south highway for three straight days, and police forcibly broke-up another demonstration, arresting several people.

Prague, 2 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Demonstrators blocked Kyrgyzstan's main highway for three straight days to protest what they say were unfair elections held Sunday (Oct. 29). According to official results, the election resulted in president Askar Akaev easily winning another term in office.

The protests were similar to demonstrations earlier this year after parliamentary elections. And like the parliamentary balloting in February and March, Sunday's presidential election was marked by irregularities and allegations of vote fraud.

On Tuesday, some 2,000 demonstrators blocked the main highway linking Bishkek and Osh in the southern Jalalabad Province. Voters say the election results in their district were faked to give Akaev the victory. They say the runner-up in the election, Omurbek Tekebaev, should have been declared the winner in Bazar-Korgon, Tekebaev's native region.

Tekebaev's campaign manager in the region, Sovetbek Artikov, says there were violations even before the polls opened in Bazar-Korgon.

"There was early voting in all 17 polling areas. There were 1,604 votes cast before election day. When we demanded to see the voter lists, the local election commission refused."

Artikov also charged that local officials had been given money, some of which, he said, paid for feasts to sway voters to Akaev.

The head of Bazar-Korgon's election commission, Nurmamot Ashimov, denied there were any violations. Ashimov said Tekebayev's supporters should use official channels to voice their complaints.

"What Tekebaev's supporters are doing is not right. If they believe there were violations in the election, they should appeal to the election commission. If they have evidence, let them submit it and the matter will be decided fairly. So far, we have not received any complaints."

Tekebaev flew to the scene Monday (Oct. 30) and asked the crowd to disperse. At first, it did. But when Tekebaev arrived on the scene on Tuesday, and again asked protestors to leave and allow traffic through, the demonstrators refused. They said they were defending their constitutional right of freedom of choice. Tekebaev asked both the protesters and the authorities to refrain from violent confrontation.

Despite Tekebaev's call, police in the city of Jalalabad, about 25 kilometers from Bazar-Korgon, yesterday forcibly broke up a demonstration. Jalalabad police chief Akjol Kambarov confirmed some of about 200 protesters were arrested but declined to say how many. Kambarov called those arrested "hooligans" who had assaulted police.

The February and March protests over the parliamentary elections were sparked by the surprise defeat of popular politician Feliks Kulov in the Kara-Buura district of Kyrgyzstan's northwestern Talas Province. Protests in Bishkek against the results in Kulov's and other districts -- and over Kulov's subsequent detainment on corruption charges -- lasted over 100 days in Bishkek.

This week's protest is hardly likely to result in an annulment of Sunday's results or the resignation of President Akaev-- both demanded by the demonstrators. But the blocking of the country's key vital north-south route is certain to get the attention of the government. Apart from air travel, the Bishkek-Osh highway is the most reliable route for travel between Bishkek and the country's southern regions, and nearly all agricultural produce from the south reaches the north by this route.

Government officials justify acknowledged imperfections in this year's elections by saying Kyrgyzstan is still learning democracy. They might also take stock of the fact that the country's protest movement seems to be getting better at civil disobedience techniques.

(Naryn Idinov and Bayan Jumagulova of the Kyrgyz Service helped in this report.)