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Foreign Observers Call Uzbek Election Undemocratic

A group of international monitors say Uzbekistan's parliamentary election Sunday did not meet democratic standards. Chief among the complaints is a lack of any real opposition candidates.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Monday contradicted Uzbekistan's claim that its elections were free and democratic.

The leader of the observer mission, Lubomir Kopaj, says Uzbekistan did not live up to its commitments as a member of the OSCE.

"The election did fall significantly short of the OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections," he said.

Earlier this year, Uzbek election authorities barred a group of opposition parties from fielding candidates, saying they had failed to comply with registration requirements.

Opposition leaders, some of whom live abroad, said they were blocked from competing for political purposes and that only candidates supporting President Islam Karimov were allowed to run.

Mr. Kopaj says the resulting field of candidates lacked democratic credibility.

"The similarity of the political platform of the registered political parties appeared to deprive voters of a genuine choice," he said.

He added that the government turned down the observers' request to examine the opposition's registration documents to see whether they were legitimately barred.

Uzbekistan joined the OSCE in 1992, along with the other former republics of the Soviet Union.

Speaking on election day, President Karimov defended the elections as fully democratic and noted that Uzbekistan's participation in the OSCE is mainly a function of its Soviet heritage.

But he stopped short of criticizing the organization or its observer mission, which his administration had invited.

Opposition party officials say they hope Mr. Karimov's government will loosen its grip on the electoral process and allow them to run in future races.

Sunday's election was for the lower chamber of parliament. An election for the newly created upper chamber is expected in early in 2005.