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Tajik Opposition Threatens Protests After Poll

Mukhiddin Kabiri
DUSHANBE (Reuters) -- Tajikistan's opposition threatened today to call street protests to challenge the result of a parliamentary election in the impoverished nation bordering Afghanistan.

Any unrest in Tajikistan could worry the West, which uses the Muslim nation of seven million as part of a northern route supplying NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Western monitors have denounced the February 28 vote for failing democratic standards. President Emomali Rahmon's party won 54 out of 63 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The opposition Islamic Revival Party -- Central Asia's only official Islamic party -- won only two seats and has vowed to challenge the result in court.

"If the courts take unfair decisions, we can organize public acts of protest as well as other actions within the country's legislation," said the party's leader Mukhiddin Kabiri.

Speaking at a party meeting, he said he would take legal action as soon as this week but gave no further details.

Kabiri's party is a reformed wing of the once-powerful United Tajik Opposition which fought Rahmon's government in a 1992-1997 civil war. More than 100,000 people died in that war.

Spurred by an economic crisis, discontent has been on the rise in Tajikistan in the past year because of growing poverty and crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure.

The inflow of remittances, one of the country's key sources of foreign currency, dropped almost by a third in 2009.

Despite growing hardship, outward gestures of protest remain rare in a country where Rahmon tolerates little dissent.

The election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on March 1 that serious irregularities meant Tajikistan's parliamentary election failed to meet basic democratic standards.

The opposition has said it had evidence of mass vote rigging. The central election commission has rejected all criticism, saying it had no evidence of large-scale violations.

Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan, the poorest nation in the ex- Soviet Union with an average monthly wage of $70, since 1992.

Signaling a possible succession plan to his long rule, Rahmon's 23-year-old son Rustami Emomali was elected into the capital Dushanbe's city council in a separate election held on February 28, the central election commission said.