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Kyrgyzstan Votes for New Legislature

Polls have closed in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, where people have cast ballots to elect a new parliament. The vote, eight months before a scheduled presidential election, is widely viewed as a test for the country's ability to stage free and fair elections.

After casting his ballot, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, who has held his post since 1990, said he expected the election to be successful and that he did not plan to stay in office after his second term expires in October.

Mr. Akayev said, "I did not, and do not, have any intention of initiating any changes to the current Constitution." The constitution limits the president to two terms.

Opposition leaders say the election to the 75-seat single-chamber legislature was flawed. "This is not a free, not a fair, and not a transparent election," said former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva.

Earlier, opposition groups complained that authorities prevented rallies, and interfered in the work of opposition media.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is monitoring the election, as are, among others, several Chinese election monitors from a regional security body.

Voters are choosing all 75 members of the single-chamber Jogorku Kenesh, which is being reconfigured from a 105-member bicameral legislature. All seats are being directly elected. The old parliament included seats distributed proportionately to a party's nationwide vote result.

The changes were approved in a 2003 referendum, pushed by President Akayev, a move critics said was an attempt to weaken opposition parties.

The Kyrgyzstan election comes after several-thousand people in northern and eastern regions of the country blocked roads to protest court rulings that banned several popular candidates from running. According to the country's Central Election Commission, in the eastern Tong district, the voting for one parliament seat was delayed for two weeks because the roadblocks made it impossible to deliver ballots.

The blockade ended on Saturday, but the disqualified candidates have called for their supporters to vote against all candidates. If a majority of voters vote against all the candidates in a particular district, a second election would have to be held. Preliminary results are not expected before Monday.