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OSCE Condemns Uzbekistan Presidential Poll

By Stefan Bos
24 December 2007

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has criticized Sunday's presidential election in Uzbekistan for failing to meet basic democratic standards. The criticism came as the Central Election Commission announced that Uzbekistan's autocratic President Islam Karimov won another seven-year term by a landslide. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

Election officials say the 69-year old president Karimov received support from nearly nine out of 10 voters, but international monitors say the poll was not conducted fairly.

OSCE spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdottir, who monitored the poll in the capital Tashkent, tells VOA that her organization believes Sunday's ballot failed to meet basic democratic standards.

"The conclusion was that this elections did not live up to the OSCE commitments for democratic elections," said Gunnarsdottir. "Maybe to summarize: It was a very strictly controlled political environment."

The OSCE spokeswoman noted that President Karimov ran against candidates who "publicly endorsed the incumbent president."

In addition independent media and political parties have been banned giving a further advantage to President Karimov, who has ruled the isolated central Asian state since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Spokeswoman Gunnarsdottir says another problem was that security forces almost watched over the shoulders of voters in polling stations Sunday, while officials apparently manipulated the ballots.

"There was a high number of police and other security personnel in the polling stations," said Gunnarsdottir. "And, during [the vote] count, there were procedural problems and cases of officials adjusting the figures."

She adds that the OSCE also questions the unusually high voter turnout of over 90 percent.

Uzbekistan's Central Election Commission has denied the charges saying no fraud claims have been reported. It also won support from the observer mission of the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) made up of former Soviet republics.

Advocacy groups and Western diplomats say most of President Karimov's opponents have been sent to jail or into exile and there are believed to be thousands of political and religious prisoners.

Mr. Karimov has maintained a hostile stance toward the West. He threw out several foreign media organizations and most aid groups, and ordered the shutdown of an American air base two years ago following Western criticism of his government's treatment of dissidents.


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