Uzbekistan's President Sworn In for a Controversial Third Term

Uzbek President Islam Karimov was sworn in for a third term Wednesday, Uzbek media reported, after an election declared undemocratic by Western observers.

Karimov won 88 percent of ballots cast in the Dec. 23 vote, in which he faced three candidates who publicly supported his re-election. Four independent candidates affiliated with a political group whose leader has been jailed for alleged financial violations were barred from the race.

Karimov, in power since before the 1991 Soviet breakup, ran for a third term despite a constitutional two-term limit in the Central Asian nation.

The election-monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote failed to meet an array of democratic standards. It said voters were deprived of a genuine choice because all candidates publicly endorsed the incumbent.

Karimov has maintained a hostile stance toward the West since criticism of his government's bloody crackdown on an uprising in the city of Andijan in 2005.

Rights groups and witnesses said at least 700 were shot dead by security forces that opened fire on a crowd of mostly peaceful protesters. Karimov's government put the death toll at 187 and accused Islamic militants of organizing a coup.

He ordered the closure of a U.S. airbase in the country later that year.

Karimov, a Soviet-era Communist Party boss, won two previous presidential elections and had his term extended twice, once through the parliament and once by referendum. None of the votes was recognized by international observers as free or fair.

Freedom House, a U.S.-based democracy watchdog, said in its annual report Wednesday that Uzbekistan remained among the world's most repressive societies. The group called Karimov's re-election a "blatant violation" of the country's constitution.