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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Voter Turnout Tops 80% in Uzbekistan

ReutersKarimov receiving his ballot at a polling station in Tashkent on Sunday. Four candidates were running in the election.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov looked relaxed as he voted Sunday in an election that is expected to extend his 18-year rule and has been condemned by the opposition as a one-man contest.

Official turnout was almost 80 percent of Uzbekistan's 16 million eligible voters four hours before polling station were due to close late Sunday, the Central Election Commission said.

"I believe people know what they are voting for -- for tomorrow, for peace in our country, for our country's development and prosperity," Karimov said in brief televised remarks at a polling station in the capital, Tashkent.

Western media were not allowed in.

Karimov, who turns 70 in January, tolerates little dissent. He faced three other candidates in a lineup that analysts said was designed to give the election the veneer of a democratic vote.

Many people expressed apathy during the day. "I didn't go. What kind of election is this?" said Bakhrom, a 50-year-old Tashkent resident. "I don't expect anything from this election."

Another man said: "It's more like a monarchy. We've been ruled by the same person for almost 20 years. Some people say they are running out of patience."

But in the old part of Tashkent, its narrow streets lined with mud-brick huts and mosques, people said they voted for Karimov. Wrapped in traditional Uzbek dress against the frost, many cast their ballots on the way home from morning prayers.

Karimov, who won the previous election in 2000 with 92 percent of the vote, has vowed to hold a transparent election and bring more democracy if re-elected.

Reuters reporters witnessed cases of multiple voting by one person at three polling stations in Tashkent. The Central Election Commission said the vote was being conducted fairly.

"The CEC has not received information on any violations of election legislation," said commission head Mirzoulugbek Abdusalomov.

A handful of opposition politicians left in Uzbekistan, where many people live in grinding poverty despite large natural gas and gold reserves, have cried foul ahead of the vote.

"We live in an ugly and amoral regime which admits no human values," said Nigara Khidoyatova, head of the unregistered opposition Ozod Dekhkonlar party. "The election ... is just a show for Western nations."

The other candidates are Dilorom Tashmukhamedova from the Adolat party, Asliddin Rustamov from the People's Democratic party, and Akmal Saidov, a parliamentary deputy.

Preliminary official results are due Monday.

The election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is also due to announce its assessment on Monday. Uzbekistan has never held an election judged free and fair by Western monitors.

Karimov's ties with the West have been strained since he was condemned by the United States and Europe in 2005, when troops opened fire on a protest in Andijan. Witnesses said hundreds of people were killed. Karimov blamed the unrest on Islamist rebels, and the government put the death toll at 187, saying most of them were terrorists or security forces.