Kyrgyz candidate condemns poll as fraudulent
Kyrgyzstan's main opposition candidate on Thursday demanded a presidential election be declared illegal as polling was under way, denouncing what he called voter fraud and calling for street protests and a rerun, Reuters reported.
Police earlier fired in the air and used batons to break up an opposition rally in a small provincial town in the ex-Soviet nation, home to U.S. and Russian military bases, but another rally in the capital dispersed quietly after polls closed.
The abrupt turn of events in Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished Muslim state at the center of U.S.-Russian rivalry in Central Asia, will be of concern to the United States, which uses it as a transit point for its troops fighting in nearby Afghanistan.
Incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiyev, accused by critics of cracking down on dissent, is certain to win the vote. Authorities said they had done their utmost to make the poll fair and the election was valid, but the opposition cried foul.
"We demand this election be declared illegal," Almazbek Atambayev, the main opposition challenger and former prime minister, told reporters. "This means that we refuse to take part in this election and legitimize President Bakiyev."
"Due to mass voter fraud we demand that this election be stopped and a new election held instead."
A crowd of 2,000 opposition supporters, chanting "Down with Bakiyev!" and waving national flags, gathered outside opposition headquarters in Bishkek, but after a few hours Atambayev told them to go home.
"Thank you for choosing me as president," he said. "Our team has won. People did not choose Bakiyev and we are not going to recognize his rule."
"The authorities will realize soon that they will have to go," Atambayev said. The crowd soon dispersed.
The central electoral commission ruled the vote valid and exit polls published by Russian news agencies gave Bakiyev 67 to 70 percent. Atambayev was second with 10 to 13 percent.
The commission promised to update voting figures through the night, but a full picture was unlikely before Friday morning.