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Kyrgyz Prosecutors Open Criminal Case Against Presidential Runner-Up

Presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov
Presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov

Kyrgyz authorities say they have opened a criminal case against the runner-up in last month's presidential election, accusing him of hate speech and publicly calling for the overthrow of the government.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office announced the case against Omurbek Babanov in a statement on November 4, just weeks after he finished second to former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the preferred candidate of outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev, in the election.

Babanov was at the center of a recent spat between Kyrgyzstan and neighboring Kazakhstan.

The two Central Asian nations -- both former Soviet republics -- clashed over Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's meeting with Babanov ahead of the election.

Atambaev, who was limited by the constitution to a single presidential term, accused Astana of "meddling in Kyrgyzstan's domestic affairs" and throwing its support behind Babanov. Atambaev later said that he "probably" went too far with his criticism of Nazarbaev.

Kyrgyz prosecutors said Babanov and other unidentified individuals are accused of "stoking ethnic, racial, and religious hatred" and "publicly calling for the violent change of the constitutional order."

They said Babanov attempted to curry support from ethnic Uzbeks on the campaign trail by discussing alleged discrimination and inequality they face at the hands of Kyrgyz authorities, "after which he called for them to actively fight against this situation."

Following a September 28 speech he delivered in the southern city of Osh, close to the border with Uzbekistan, footage of the appearance began circulating online in which he is heard saying: “It's better to die standing than crawl on your knees."

His supporters say the quote was taken out of context, and that the phrase was meant to encourage people not to be pressured into voting for a certain candidate.

After losing the official tally to Jeenbekov in the October 15 election, Babanov said he and his supporters faced pressure and bias throughout the campaign.

He said, however, that he would not challenge the results of the election, which Jeenbekov won with more than 54 percent of the vote, according to official results.

Babanov won around 34 percent of the vote.

International observers praised the election as competitive and transparent, but said that "numerous and significant problems were noted" during the count and that "misuse of public resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remain a concern."

Jeenbekov is scheduled to be inaugurated on November 24.

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