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Russia’s Favored Candidate Wins Presidential Vote in Kyrgyzstan

Former Prime Minister and Russia�s favored candidate, Almazbek Atambayev (C), who was declared winner of Kyrgyzstan's presidential elections Monday, talks to journalists in the capital Bishkek, October 31, 2011.

After 20 years of independence, voters in Kyrgyzstan have voted heavily for a presidential candidate who promises to tighten links between Moscow and its former Central Asian republic.

Russia’s favored candidate was declared winner of Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections Monday, marking another step in Russia’s return to Central Asia.

Almazbek Atambayev, a moderate who recently served as prime minister, won 63 percent of the vote in Sunday’s elections in the former Soviet republic.

In a crowded field of 16 candidates, Atambayev stood out as the only one to have won an audience in Moscow with Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, Atambayev organized a vote in parliament to rename one of the nation’s tallest mountains Vladimir Putin Peak.

In the campaign, the former Kyrgyz prime minister supported two of Putin’s expansion policies - a free trade pact for most of the former Soviet Union and a Customs Union. Today, as many as one-quarter of Kyrygz men work in two countries that are members of the Customs Union - Russia and Kyrgyzstan’s northern neighbor, Kazakhstan.

Pyotr Chernyak, a former newspaper editor and now a business consultant, spoke Monday from Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.

Chernyak said that after two decades of poor economic performance and two street revolutions, many Kyrgyz welcome Atambayev’s promises of political stability and closer economic ties with Russia.

Atambayev said Kyrgyzstan would not renew a U.S. lease at an air base outside Bishkek used to ferry troops to Afghanistan. The lease expires in 2014.

Other analysts say many Kyrygz are worried about the American decision to reduce troops in Afghanistan and China’s economic push from the east. Moscow, which ruled Soviet Central Asia until 1991, is seen by some as a familiar guarantor of Kyrgyz sovereignty.

Western poll-watchers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declared the voting and vote-counting to be flawed, but ultimately fair. They said the fraud did not seem big enough to change the outcome.

According to Kyrgyz election officials, Atambayev overwhelmed his two closest rivals. Both from the nation’s restive south, each received about 14 percent.

One candidate, Kamchibek Tashiyev, a former emergencies minister and a trained boxer, had threatened to bring “millions” of people to the streets if elections were unfair. On Monday, several hundred of his supporters briefly blocked a road near his hometown. They then demonstrated in Osh, the largest city in southern Kyrgyzstan. In the evening, no disturbances were reported.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, Central Asia's first woman president, is to step down at the end of her term on December 31. In so doing, she will record another first for post-Soviet Central Asia - the first national leader to voluntarily surrender power to a democratically elected successor.