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Kyrgyzstan's Atambaev Calls Presidential Candidate A 'Friend'

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (file photo)

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has expressed hope that allies will hold power and adhere to his policies after he leaves office following an October 15 presidential election.

Meeting with residents in the southern town of Ozgon on August 28, Atambaev called presidential candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov his "friend" and suggested that Sapar Isakov, who became prime minister after Jeenbekov quit to run in the election, is his protege.

"After I leave my post, my friend may become the president. A young fellow whom I trained and raised was recently appointed prime minister.... I hope they will carry on my affairs and finish what I have undertaken," Atambaev said.

Jeenbekov and Isakov are seen as loyal allies of Atambaev, who is limited to a single presidential term by the Kyrgyz Constitution.

Critics say Atambaev is looking for ways to maintain influence after he leaves office to make way for the winner of the election in the nation of 6 million.

Constitutional amendments proposed by Atambaev and approved in a December 2016 referendum boosted the powers of the prime minister in Kyrgyzstan, the only Central Asian country that has had more than two presidents since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Opponents fear the amendments were aimed to make it easier for Atambaev and his allies to remain in power as long as possible.

Atambaev began his six-year term in 2011, succeeding Roza Otunbaeva. The two previous presidents were driven from power by street protests, Askar Akaev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiev in 2010.

Controversy has been cast over the election by the August 16 conviction of opposition politician Omurbek Tekebaev, a former ally of Atambaev, on bribery charges that his Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party says were aimed to keep him off the ballot.

Tekebaev was sentenced to eight years in prison, a ruling that bars him from running in the upcoming election and the next presidential vote, due to be held in 2023.

Election officials are scheduled to release the final list of candidates in the October 15 vote on September 10.