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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bakiyev Wins Criticized Kyrgyz Vote

ReutersOpposition supporters taking part in a rally, demanding a presidential election be declared illegal, in Bishkek on Thursday.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — European monitors said Friday that Kyrgyzstan's presidential election was marred by ballot-box stuffing and widespread irregularities in vote counting.

The preliminary assessment by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could bolster the opposition's determination to protest the vote. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev won an overwhelming victory with about 85 percent of the vote, according to partial official results.

Stability in Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 5 million on the western border of China, is of strong interest to both Russia and the United States. The country hosts a U.S. air base crucial to operations in Afghanistan and is a focus of competition between Washington and Moscow for regional influence.

The OSCE report cited numerous incidents of ballot-box stuffing and strongly criticized the vote counting, saying observers rated over half the vote counts at precincts as not acceptable.

In addition, Bakiyev used state resources to make sure he captured another 5-year term, the report said, calling the election "a disappointment."

"Sadly, this election did not show the progress we were hoping for and it again fell short of key standards Kyrgyzstan has committed to as a participating state of the OSCE," monitoring chief Radmila Sekerinska said in a statement.

The main opposition candidate, Almazbek Atambayev, has dismissed Thursday's election as fraudulent and called for a rerun. He said ballot-stuffing was widespread, election monitors were intimidated and the official turnout was inflated.

Atambayev won just over 5 percent of votes, according to an election commission count of one-quarter of the country's polling stations.

Bakiyev, 59, had campaigned on a platform of stability. The opposition, however, accuses him of cheating in the largely peaceful vote and say he is taking Kyrgyzstan — once viewed as the region's beacon of democracy — down the path of authoritarianism.

Hours before the polls closed, Atambayev announced that he was taking himself out of the running in protest, though legal issues prevented him from officially withdrawing.

"We believe these elections to be illegitimate," Atambayev told hundreds of supporters outside his headquarters after the polls closed Thursday. "We will not recognize this president."

But plans for a protest march to the Central Election Commission late Thursday fizzled amid fears that authorities were planning to provoke violence and then blame it on the opposition.

But Atambayev said Bakiyev's opponents would press their fight, saying the government "wants to rule the people by theft."

Bakiyev has increased government spending and boosted salaries and pensions. But the global financial crisis has slammed Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan, devastating Kyrgyzstan's economy because it relies heavily on remittances and trade.

Under a recent deal to extend the lease of the Manas U.S. air base, Kyrgyzstan will receive $60 million in annual rent, more than triple the previous amount, plus a further $120 million in investment and aid.

Bakiyev has also secured more than $2 billion in aid and loans from Russia, widely seen as an attempt by Moscow to pressure Bakiyev to close down the Manas base.

His government ordered U.S. forces out of Manas by August, but later reversed itself.

If elected, Bakiyev is expected to continue courting support from both the U.S. and Russia.