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Kyrgyz President Calls Candidate Foreign 'Flunky' As Election Nears


Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (file photo)

BATKEN, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has called a leading contender in the race to succeed him a "flunky" of a foreign country, lashing out amid tension ahead of an October 15 vote in the Central Asian country.

Atamabev did not name the candidate or the country in his remarks on October 13, but they were aimed at Kazakhstan, which he has accused of meddling in the election and backing businessman Omurbek Babanov over the ruling party favorite.

"Now, a foreign country's moneybags and power holders are imposing their flunky on us," Atambaev said during a visit to the southern Batken region.

"Failing to buy us with their money, they are trying to frighten us," he said, referring to what Kyrgyz officials say are stepped up border checks that have caused hours-long delays for people and vehicles trying to cross into Kazakhstan.

"The Kyrgyz people, with at least a 3,000-year history, will never be frightened of a three-day blockade and will never vote for someone's flunky," Atambaev said.

Atambaev is constitutionally barred from seeking a second presidential term in the country of 6 million and has made clear he wants his former prime minister, ruling Social Democratic Party candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov, to win the election.

Babanov's campaign on October 13 objected to Atambaev's "offensive assessment of the candidate" and called on the president to keep his "promise" to hold an "honest election" and refrain from openly supporting any of the candidates, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

"Your words, as recent years have shown, have a direct impact on the decisions made by law-enforcement authorities and the judiciary. We also believe that this is unfair and violates the principles of a lawful, open, and competitive election," the campaign was quoted by Interfax as saying in a statement issued in Bishkek.

Atambaev's latest comments echoed a public statement on October 7 in which he accused the Kazakh authorities of "meddling in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs" and of openly supporting Babanov.

In those remarks, Atambaev also criticized Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has been in power since the Soviet era, over his long rule.

The accusations came after Nazarbaev met on September 19 with Babanov, who is seen as a front-runner along with Jeenbekov -- an unusual step by the president of a neighboring country during an election campaign.

Adding to the pressure on Babanov, the Prosecutor-General's Office said on October 13 that recent remarks he made to ethnic Uzbek voters in southern Kyrgyzstan "contained elements of incitement of ethnic hatred." It did not say whether there would be a formal investigation or what the consequences might be.

The statement came after the Central Election Commission (BSK) issued a warning to Babanov on October 10 about the same remarks, saying they risked inciting ethnic discord.

It was the third warning of an alleged campaign infraction that Babanov has received, after one involving campaign posters and another what the election officials said was the participation of Islamic clergy in his campaign.

The warning led to concerns that the commission could seek to bar Babanov from the vote -- something his backers say would be illegal this close to election day. While three warnings can lead to the disqualification of a candidate, disqualification later than five days before the election is unlawful.

Atambaev's remarks about a "blockade" referred to the chaotic situation along the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, where long lines formed after Kazakh authorities appeared to slow passage across the border following his initial public criticism of Kazakhstan.

Kazakh officials have rejected the claims of interference in the Kyrgyz election and said the slowdown at the frontier was the result of a "scheduled border operation."

On October 13, the Kazakh Central Election Commission (OSK) said that commission member Marat Sarsenbaev had rejected a Kyrgyz invitation to observe the election "to avoid speculation that our country is in any way interfering in the voting in Kyrgyzstan."

The commission supported the move. Deputy Chairman Konstantin Petrov announced that the OSK would not observe the election following "unprecedented statements by the president of Kyrgyzstan about Kazakhstan."

The OSK said, however, that 46 Kazakh officials will take part in observing the election as part of missions from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking Countries.

The presidential campaign in Kyrgyzstan officially ends at midnight on October 13, with campaigning prohibited on the day before the vote.

The border bottleneck and the dispute with Kazakhstan have added to tension ahead of the election in the former Soviet republic, where presidents were driven from power by protesters in 2005 and 2010.

Atambaev was elected in 2011 after an interim president, who was selected following the ouster of Kurmanbek Bakiev in 2010, stepped down as promised.

A peaceful succession would mark the first time a popularly elected president takes over from another popularly elected president in Kyrgyzstan, which gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse.

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