Tue, Dec 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Uzbek leader dismisses Europe's criticism of election

AP , TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN

Uzbeks voted for parliament on Sunday in a poll that drew sharp criticism from Europe's top election watchdog after opposition groups were barred from participating.

Responding to the criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), President Islam Karimov said: "The OSCE cannot have the exclusive right to assess elections."

The OSCE, which sent 21 observers, has said Uzbekistan provided insufficient conditions for a democratic vote.

The OSCE said its presence should not be construed as a sign that the vote was legitimate.

After casting his ballot on Sunday at a polling station in the capital, Tashkent, Karimov said the OSCE, of which Uzbekistan is a member, "represents Europe while we're in Central Asia."

Uzbekistan has hosted US troops near its border with Afghanistan since 2001. But Washington has cut aid to the country, citing its lack of progress on democratic reforms.

"OSCE observers don't like the calm situation in which the elections are held and they are surprised why there's no fierce competition," Karimov said, defending the inactive campaigns of the candidates, all of whom represent the five parties loyal to Karimov.

None of Uzbekistan's four small opposition groups are formally recognized. They said authorities rejected their registration requests.

Some opposition parties urged voters to boycott the elections.

After polls closed at 8pm, election officials said turnout had been 85.1 percent, far more than the 33 percent minimum required to make the poll valid. The Central Election Commission said no irregularities were reported.

Karimov said on Sunday that the country had no "real" opposition and that the existing opposition groups had no popular support.

Leader of the opposition Erk Party, Atonazar Arifov, said Sunday's poll showed that "the government doesn't want either democratic rule or free elections with real competition."

The vote caps a year of growing public discontent over the lack of freedoms in this former Soviet republic and a series of deadly attacks blamed on radical Islamic groups.

The few voters who trickled into polling stations in Tashkent expressed cynicism, and many appeared to have ignored the vote altogether.

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