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27-02-05, 11:16
Protests hit Kyrgyzstan elections

The former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan is holding parliamentary elections in all but one protest-hit district in the east.

Voting in Tong district has been delayed by two weeks after roads in the area were blocked by protests over the disqualification of popular candidates.

The vote serves as a prelude to presidential elections in October.

President Askar Akayev has warned against an overthrow of government of the kind seen in Ukraine and Georgia.

He has promised to step down for the October poll, after more than a decade in power in the mountainous central Asian republic.

However, his critics fear he will use the parliamentary election to prolong his term in office or pave the way for a younger relative to succeed him.

'Blockade to blame'

Elections in Kyrgyzstan are generally regarded as a cosmetic exercise that confirms the status quo, but this campaign has seen stirrings of discontent, the BBC's Ian MacWilliam reports from the capital Bishkek.

Several opposition and independent candidates have been banned from contesting the vote, sparking widespread protests.

In the eastern Tong districts, roads have been blocked by supporters of Arslanbek Maliyev, a popular member of the outgoing parliament barred from standing for office over alleged electoral irregularities.

The electoral commission said the blockade of roads meant polling stations in Tong were not ready for the vote.

Polls in the area have been rescheduled for 13 March.

Opposition dis-unity

Mr Akayev's government was initially seen as the least authoritarian of the former Soviet regimes but it has recently come in for increasing criticism from human rights groups.

390 candidates competing for 75 seats
More than 40 parties - including the centrist Alga Kyrgyzstan and the opposition People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan
Some opposition politicians barred
Run-off election held after two weeks, if no party wins more than 50% of the vote
Presidential race scheduled for October

He recently warned protesters from attempting to emulate the popular uprisings that have unseated rulers in Ukraine and Georgia, saying this would destabilise the region.

Although Kyrgyzstan is an ally in the "war on terror" and has made space for a US military base on its territory, Mr Akayev remains suspicious of US-funded pressure groups, accusing them of conspiring against him.

However, observers told our correspondent Kyrgyz opposition groups lack the unity to pose a real threat to the government.

Sunday will also see elections in Kyrgyzstan's neighbour, Tajikistan.

President Imomali Rakhmonov is widely expected to win the vote.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/02/27 08:25:45 GMT