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Supporters Of Jailed Kyrgyz Politician Tekebaev Start Hunger Strike

Omurbek Tekebaev in a cell during a court hearing

BISHKEK -- Supporters of jailed opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party leader Omurbek Tekebaev, who is being tried on charges of bribe-taking, have started a hunger strike in the Kyrgyz capital.

Ata-Meken member Kalys Boronbaev told RFE/RL that at least six activists had started the hunger strike on July 31, demanding the authorities allow Tekebaev to take the Kyrgyz-language test required for registration as a presidential candidate.

Boronbaev said that more activists and supporters of the party are expected to join the hunger strike in days.

Tekebaev and his co-defendant, former Emergencies Minister Duishonkul Chotonov, went on trial in June. They are charged with receiving a $1 million bribe from a Russian businessman in 2010, when Tekebaev was deputy prime minister.

Both deny any wrongdoing, saying the case against them is politically motivated.

On July 26, the court rejected Tekebaev's request for permission to take the language test.

Ata-Meken has alleged that the government launched the case in an effort to stifle dissent ahead of the October presidential election in the Central Asian country and keep Tekebaev off the ballot.

The 58-year-old Tekebaev was once an ally of President Almazbek Atambaev. He was arrested in late February. On March 5, Ata-Meken named him its candidate for the presidential election.

Atambaev, who has been in office since December 2011, is constitutionally barred from running for a second term.

July 31 was the last day for would-be presidential candidates to file application documents with the Central Election Commission, though those who have done so still face other steps before getting on the ballot.

As of July 31, applications had been filed for 53 people -- 42 who are seeking to run as independent candidates and 11 who were proposed by political parties.