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Uzbekistan Voters Go to Polls

  • Emma Simpson

Voters have been taking to the polls to elect a new president in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. President Islam Karimov, is all but certain to be re-elected for a third term in office. Emma Simpson reports for VOA from Moscow that opposition and human rights groups have condemned the election as little more than a show.

This has been a tightly controlled election. During voting, Uzbekistan's borders were closed as part of increased security measures in place across the country.

The race is effectively a one man contest - there are three other candidates, but they have been fielded by pro-government parties, a move that critics say is to create the illusion of choice. President Islam Karimov's genuine rivals, have not been allowed to run.

Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan since it was a Soviet Republic nearly two decades ago. He has won two terms in office and extended his rule several times through parliament and a referendum. None of these votes has been recognized as free or fair by international election monitors.

The Organization for Security And Cooperation in Europe has only sent a small team of observers.

Many international news organizations have been denied permission to cover the election. Human-rights activists have already reported that the government has been pressuring voters to cast their ballots in favor of the president.

Karimov, though, has vowed to hold a transparent vote and to bring more democracy if re-elected. But it is clear he tolerates little dissent, as he has either arrested or sent into exile all his political rivals.

Uzbekistan is a strategically important, energy rich, country, in which Russia, China and the United States are jockeying for influence. But since 2005, President Karimov has been in a stand-off with the West following the massacre in the eastern city of Andijan where hundreds of people were killed by Government troops in a failed uprising.

President Karimov appears set to reign for another seven-year term. The first election results are expected Monday.

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