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Withdrawals, Protests Mar Kyrgyz Election


Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev speaks to reporters after voting in Bishkek on July 23.
Kurmanbek Bakiev appears headed for reelection as Kyrgyz president, as the central election commission announced that the incumbent had won 87.7 percent of the vote.

With ballots from more than half of polling stations counted, the election commission said that the main opposition challenger, Almazbek Atambaev, who has denounced the election as rigged, had just over 7 percent.

The commission said that turnout was 79.3 percent.

Atambaev said his monitors had documented cases of widespread ballot stuffing, and that a number of his monitors had been harassed. But the central election commission said it had no evidence of serious violations.

Observers from the election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are due to give their assessment of the vote later on July 24.

Shortly after the polls opened on July 23, Atambaev, a former prime minister, accused officials of election fraud and announced he was quitting the race, shortly after learning that one of his local campaign managers had been detained.

"We refuse to take part in this false election and to legitimize President Bakiev," Atambaev said of his withdrawal, although his presence on the ballot technically left him in the race. "He is not going to be a legitimate president, and this government is completely illegitimate and has proven such through its actions."

Atambaev called on people to stop voting and instead go out into the streets on election day and to protest the election on July 24.

The Bishkek mayor's office said that no demonstrations would be allowed on election day. An opposition concert scheduled for the evening took place without incident.

Bakiev denied widespread fraud and said that any irregularities would be of the type encountered in any election in any country and would not affect the outcome.

"I have been saying to governors, mayors, and everyone from the very first day that 'I don't need your well-intentioned services. I don't need it. I believe that without it everything will work out fine,'" Bakiev said. "I'll put it another way -- there isn't a country in the world where there are elections that come off without a hitch, that are conducted smoothly. People are people."

Narrowing Field

Atambaev had been expected to present the only serious challenge, although few saw any real chance for an upset.

Independent candidate Jenishbek Nazaraliev also announced his withdrawal from the race after voting began, alleging widespread fraud and other irregularities.

"I am not for the right or for the left, I am simply for fair elections," Nazaraliev said. "And when the country's leaders act unscrupulously, it is, of course, wrong."

Atambaev and Nazaraliev said they were trying to convince another candidate -- Temir Sariev of the Ak-Shumkar Party -- to drop out as well.

The Central Election Commission announced that voters could still vote for Atambaev and Nazaraliev despite their withdrawals, because their names remained on the ballot.

Five candidates are on the ballot to challenge Bakiev.

Bitter Politics

The detention of Mirbek Asanakulov, Atambaev's campaign manager in the Issyk-Kul area, sparked a protest that drew an estimated 1,000 people to the local mayor's office, according to correspondents for RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service who were at the scene.

Police used percussion grenades and fired into the air to disperse the crowd, despite the presence of a local member of parliament among protesters, the correspondents said.

Kyrgyzstan's first presidential vote following the so-called Tulip Revolution in 2005, won by Bakiev, was the first election in post-Soviet Central Asia to have been deemed free and fair by Western election observers.

But criticism has mounted and internal political dissent sharpened in the ensuing four years, as former opposition allies traded bitter attacks and legislative and presidential forces revamped the constitution.

Early Signs Of Trouble

Atambaev wasted little time on election day, alleging official fraud to reporters after he cast his own ballot.

"The elections are being conducted in a dirty fashion -- very dirty -- because of the lack of confidence authorities have in themselves," Atambaev said. "The authorities, sensing defeat, are playing games. The authorities will lose without a doubt. The question is will people's voices be heard."

Atambaev claimed his campaign workers had witnessed numerous examples of irregularities, including the "stuffing of ballot boxes" and voter lists in the capital, Bishkek, that included the deceased.

"We checked one building and found eight people on the [voter] list who were long dead," Atambaev said.

Based on RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reports; written by Bruce Pannier with contributions by Andy Heil. With material from agency reports.