Voters in Kyrgyzstan Cast Presidential Ballots

Posted October 30th, 2011 at 10:50 am (UTC-5)
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Voters in the turbulent Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan are going to the polls in the first presidential election since the deadly 2010 uprising that toppled former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Pre-election polls showed moderate ex-Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, a wealthy businessman from the north, leading 15 other candidates in Sunday’s multi-party election. His main challengers were the ousted president’s former Emergency Minister Kamchibek Tashiyev and former Speaker of Parliament Adakhan Madumarov. Both candidates are from the south.

Just days ahead of the polls, analysts said it was unclear if Mr. Atambayev would secure the 50 percent of votes needed to win outright. A runoff vote is expected for mid-November.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, who has led the country since Bakiyev was ousted, is not running for office.

Voting Sunday was reported brisk in the capital, Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan hosts both U.S. and Russian military bases and is a crucial hub for NATO operations in Afghanistan.

On the campaign trail, the top three leading candidates have said they would respect the U.S. base lease, which expires in 2014.

Less controversial is a Russian base on the other side of Bishkek, a legacy of Soviet days.

Geography divides the mountainous ex-Soviet country between north and south, and ethnicity further splits the population of 5.5 million.

Last year, in Kyrgyz cities bordering Uzbekistan, rioting broke out between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks. When the fight was over, about 500 people were dead, thousands were wounded and thousands of houses were in ruins.

Earlier this month, Mr. Atambayev traveled to Moscow where he met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He is the only candidate to win such an audience. Kremlin approval is key in a country where one-quarter of adult males work in Russia.