BISHKEK (Reuters) -- The main opposition candidate in Kyrgyzstan's July 23 presidential elections, Almazbek Atambaev, has said the government was planning to rig the vote and if this happened public protests may follow.
The Central Asian state, home to U.S. and Russian military air bases, has become an object of increasing rivalry between the two superpowers seeking to boost their influence in the region which is close to Afghanistan.
The run-up to the elections, which are certain to hand the win to incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev, has been marred by signs of growing instability in Central Asia and attacks on independent reporters in the poor mountainous ex-Soviet republic.
"The government has lost these elections, it is now about how they will rig the results," Atambaev, the leader of the Social Democratic party and a former prime minister, told Reuters in an interview.
Like rats are afraid of the light, this government is afraid of the truth.
The administration said it was doing everything to ensure the vote was fair and transparent.
"It has come to the point when police and the GKNB [security services] are trying to foil my meetings with voters," he said, adding: "Like rats are afraid of the light, this government is afraid of the truth."
Atambaev said he did not rule out postelection protests.
"If they try to steal votes on the election day, anything may happen," he said. "I will be with those who come out to defend their votes."
Potential instability in Kyrgyzstan irks the United States which is using its local air base Manas near the capital, Bishkek, to support military operations in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan and the rest of Central Asia, largely peaceful since 2005, have been volatile in past weeks as fighting intensified in the adjacent areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some security analysts believe the surge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's offensive against militants in tribal areas, may have forced some Taliban fighters of Central Asian origin to trickle back into the former Soviet region. Islamist Threat
Critics have accused Bakiev of using the Islamist threat to bolster his reelection chances and win concessions from the United States and Russia.
Bakiev, who himself came to power after riots triggered by a flawed parliamentary poll ousted his predecessor Askar Akaev, warned his opponents against the same tactics and said elections would be fair.
"All the necessary measures have been taken to facilitate open and transparent presidential elections," his administration quoted him as saying. "And all attempts to organise unrest will be stopped in line with the law, we will not allow anyone to destabilize the country."
Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry on July 21 accused two of Atambayev's supporters of beating up a policeman. Bakyt Beshimov, Atambaev's chief of staff, denied the allegations.
"They [the government] have launched mass repressions within the last three days...[They] are bullying members of election commissions and activists," he said.
The West praised 2005 elections which brought Bakiev to power. But observers said a 2007 parliamentary election in which his Ak Zhol party won most seats in the parliament fell short of democratic standards.