|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-325827 Kyrgyzstan/Vote (L-Upd)
DATELINE= BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN
HEADLINE: Vote Counting Begins in Kyrgyz Presidential Election
INTRO: Vote-counting is under way in Kyrgyzstan's presidential election. Going into Sunday's voting, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was favored to replace Askar Akayev, who fled the country in the wake of violent protests in March. VOA's Lisa McAdams is in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, with the latest.
TEXT: Mr. Bakiyev became the front candidate, after he secured the support of popular opposition politician Felix Kulov, who is expected to be named prime minister, if Mr. Bakiyev is elected president.
Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Mr. Bakiyev said the elections would be free and fair, and meet all international standards for democratic elections.
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This 35-year-old hairdresser, Regina, is skeptical. Still, she says, she came out to vote.
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Many other voters told VOA they were not so much voting for acting President Bakiyev, a southerner and former prime minister, as much as they were showing support for Felix Kulov, who is from the north, and is a former opponent of ousted former President Askar Akayev. There were fears that north-south rivalries could be enflamed, if the two men had competed against each other in the presidential race.
All those interviewed agreed that the next president will first need to secure peace and stability, following several months of political unrest.
Election officials extended voting at polling stations by four hours in order to increase the chances that everyone who wanted to vote would be able to do so.
Local officials were concerned that, in the midst of the summer harvest season, many people in the north of the country would remain in the fields to work, and not go to the polls. But voter turn-out in the north exceeded the 50-percent needed to make the vote valid. Turn-out was even higher in the south.
Central election officials said voting proceeded normally, and that there were no immediate reports of violations or incidents.
Nearly one-thousand local and international observers monitored the vote at about 21-hundred polling stations across mostly-Muslim Kyrgyzstan. Initial results are expected on Monday. (SIGNED)
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