The leading opposition figure in Kyrghyzstan dramatically withdrew from today’s presidential election, claiming widespread fraud. Almazbek Atambayev cast his vote, then quit the race, saying there was evidence of vote rigging on a massive scale.
“We will ask people to go out on the streets, today and if necessary tomorrow, to hold rallies,” said Atambayev. “We are warning the electoral commission that any attempt to declare this vote legitimate will spark even stronger protests.” Earlier there were reports that riot police had fired in the air to disperse about a thousand protesters in the town of Balykchi. Exit polls gave President Kurmanbek Bakiyev an overwhelming victory with two thirds of the vote. The authorities insisted everything possible had been done to ensure a fair vote, but the President’s opponents cried foul. Kyrghyzstan is the focus of superpower rivalry in Central Asia, hosting American and Russian military bases. Its stability is seen as vital in the struggle against the spread of militant Islam.