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Autocratic Uzbek leader seeks third term in tightly controlled vote

Autocratic Uzbek leader seeks third term in tightly controlled vote

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, one of the most repressive leaders of former Soviet Union countries, sought a new term in office Sunday in an election dismissed by critics as a sham, as state television broadcasts extolled his rule.
Karimov, a former Communist Party boss who has led Uzbekistan since the 1991 Soviet collapse, faced three other candidates _ but they all publicly supported his policies and were seen by critics as token opponents whose candidacies were aimed at providing a superficial veneer of competition.
"I believe people know by themselves what to vote for," Karimov said in televised remarks after voting. "That is for the future, peace in our country, its development and prosperity."
State television on Sunday broadcast a series of documentaries praising Uzbekistan's purported democratic and economic development under Karimov _ who has sent political opponents to jail or into exile, muzzled the news media and placed the economy in stagnation.
Almost half the population of ex-Soviet Central Asia lives in Uzbekistan, and the country's political course and stability are crucial for the energy-rich region in which Russia, China and the United States are vying for influence.
The Associated Press and several other international news organizations were denied accreditation to cover the election.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent only a limited, 21-person election observation mission "due to the apparent limited nature of the competition."
"The outcome of this vote is predetermined," human rights activist Surat Ikramov said by telephone from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. "There is no sign that Karimov's regime is easing up."
Election authorities announced a nearly 80 percent turnout four hours before the end of voting, well exceeding the 33 percent needed to make the vote valid, the state UzA news agency said.
Karimov's clampdown on Muslims who worship outside state-controlled institutions has fueled radical Islam throughout the region, adding to tension in an already troubled part of the world.
Karimov has maintained a hostile stance toward the West since he ordered the shutdown of a U.S. air base in 2005 following Western criticism of his government's bloody crackdown on an uprising in the city of Andijan.
He also threw out several foreign media organizations and almost all aid groups, accusing them of trying to foment a revolution, and has sought to strengthen ties with Russia and China.
Karimov, who will turn 70 next month, became the top Communist boss in 1989 in what was then a Soviet republic and Soviet industry's main cotton supplier. Since the Soviet collapse, he has won two presidential elections _ in 1991 and 1999 _ and had his term extended twice, once through parliament and again in a referendum.
None of those elections were recognized by international observers as free or fair.
Human rights activists reported numerous cases of multiple voting throughout the country and official pressure on voters at polling stations to cast ballots for Karimov.
Karimov has resisted market reforms since the Soviet disintegration and has brought the resource-rich nation's economy to the brink of collapse, plunging most of its 27 million people into poverty. More than 3 million Uzbeks have left for Russia and Kazakhstan in recent years as guest workers by the two countries' official estimates.
In suppressing the 2005 Andijan revolt, Uzbek government troops killed some 700 mostly unarmed civilians, rights groups and witnesses said. Authorities blamed the violence on Islamic radicals, and said only 187 people died.


Updated : 2021-08-01 20:13 GMT+08:00