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Kyrgyz vote setback could spark violence - governor
by Dmitry Solovyov

Reuters    Translate This Article
9 October 2010

OSH, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Voters could try to foment violence in southern Kyrgyzstan should candidates they support fail to win seats in a new parliament, the governor of volatile Osh province said on Saturday.

Kyrgyzstan votes on Sunday to create the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia in a year that has seen the president overthrown and hundreds of people killed in ethnic clashes in the south of the impoverished former Soviet republic.

Sooronbai Dzheyenbekov, who governs the Osh region that was at the epicentre of the June bloodshed, said he expected the landmark election to be free of the corruption and fraud that has dogged previous presidential votes in Kyrgyzstan.

However, the results may not please everybody in the city, where tension persists between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek residents and many still live in tents after their homes were destroyed.

'There are voices saying that, if they are not given enough votes, there will be a repeat of the Osh events. We will not let this happen,' Dzheyenbekov said in an interview.

He declined to identify whom he thought might try to instigate violence. He said a successful election would be key to restoring people's trust in the authorities.

'We are ready to defend the constitution and even to sacrifice our lives for Kyrgyzstan to be democratic and independent. If the unrest is not purposefully organised, people will not go out on the streets of their own volition.'

The interim government of Kyrgyzstan, led by acting president Roza Otunbayeva, has struggled to impose its authority in the south since coming to power after the popular revolt that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.

An attempt in August to remove the powerful mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, was abandoned after thousands of his supporters—some of them on horseback—rallied in the central square. Myrzakmatov has made no public appearances in the run-up to the elections.


In a televised address on Saturday, Otunbayeva urged the people of Kyrgyzstan to vote. 'We are electing not only a parliament, but a new system of government,' she said. 'We are turning over a new page in the history of Kyrgyzstan.'

Dzheyenbekov said he believed there would be little opportunity for fraud during the election, which will be monitored by around 800 observers nationwide, including 250 from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE).

'There was always massive ballot stuffing during all the previous elections,' he said. 'It will never again be the same.'

Among the frontrunners in Osh is Ata Zhurt, a nationalist party popular in the south with ethnic Kyrgyz.

In Uzbek neighbourhoods, the most prominent campaign posters are for the Respublika party of ex-parliamentary deputy Omurbek Babanov and the Ar-Namys party of Felix Kulov, a former prime minister and fierce critic of the parliamentary democracy idea.

Many Uzbeks said they would vote in the hope of stability.

'After the elections, there will be a stable authority. This is our hope. This is what we are asking God for,' said Miradilzhon Muidinov, headmaster of the Lev Tolstoi school.

Classes at the school, in a village near Osh, now take place inside 11 tents provided by UNICEF. The school building itself was burnt to the ground in the June violence.

If nothing else, the election has brought some colour to the streets of Osh. One local resident, who declined to be named, gazed at the campaign posters and said: 'They will hang here for at least a year, because they are so beautiful.'

(Additional reporting and writing by Robin Paxton in Bishkek; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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