Kyrgyz PM claims election victory as rivals rally

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Kyrgyzstan’s Moscow-backed prime minister claimed victory on Monday in a presidential election, but observers reported some voting abuses and supporters of defeated candidates rallied in the south of the restive former Soviet republic.
With 99 percent of ballots counted, pro-business Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev had 63 percent of the vote, an outright majority that would avoid the need for a second round run-off against a potentially strong rival from the south.
The vote is a test of reforms designed to make Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country of 5.5 million, Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy after 20 years of authoritarian rule that triggered a bloody revolution in April last year. A trouble-free election would signal the first peaceful transfer of power in the mainly Muslim country, which lies on a drugs route out of nearby Afghanistan and hosts both Russian and U.S. military air bases. But international observers reported cases of ballot box stuffing and vote buying, while a group of candidates vowed to challenge the result even before the polls had closed on Sunday.
Atambayev’s two main challengers from a field of 16 each polled just below 15 percent. Both enjoy strong support from Kyrgyz nationalists in the poorer south of the country, scene of ethnic riots that killed hundreds in June 2010.
About 200 supporters of third-placed Kamchibek Tashiyev, a trained boxer popular in the south, rallied in the southern city of Jalalabad and blocked a major road. Dozens more of his supporters gathered in Osh, the largest city in the south.
Both Tashiyev and Adakhan Madumarov, a three-times national billiards champion who was placed second, have said their actions would be lawful, but have refused to rule out street protests.
Tashiyev demanded new elections. “I won’t calm down,” he told reporters in the capital Bishkek. “Voters are in place and you will hear their reaction soon.”