Bakiyev wins landslide vote

BISHKEK: Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev won a landslide second term in office Friday, bagging nearly 90 percent of a little over a quarter of the vote counted so far, the election commission announced.

Bakiyev garnered a staggering 89.7 percent of the vote with 30 percent of the ballot counted.

He was widely expected to win re-election, but the the landslide nature of the victory in a race that had been tightly contested by United People's Movement candidate Almazbek Atambayev is certain to spark further allegations of electoral fraud from the opposition.

The country's fractured opposition slammed the elections as "illegitimate" almost immediately after polls closed, but by evening they already appeared to be backing away from threats to paralyze the nation with street protests.

Bakiyev, who the opposition accuses of employing intimidation and violence against his political opponents, pledged to crack down on any unauthorized demonstrations.

Polling stations across the mountainous former Soviet republic closed at 8:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) and the Central Election Commission declared a huge turnout of almost 80 percent of registered voters.

Atambayev slammed the conduct of the election in an interview with AFP, saying that the opposition would refuse to recognize the results and seek assistance from the international community.

But he struck a more conciliatory tone than the fiery rhetoric he had been using earlier in the day.

"In the end, we are going to win because we have the truth on our side. In fact, we've already won," he said.

Atambayev earlier in the day angrily pulled his supporters out of polling stations across the country, saying the elections had been fraudulent.

At the same time, he denied reports that he had officially withdrawn his candidacy at such a late date -- a move that could leave him open to prosecution under Kyrgyz law.

"I didn't withdraw my candidacy, and I'm not even able to do so under Kyrgyz law," Atambayev told AFP.

After polls closed, some 2,000 opposition supporters gathered at Atambayev's campaign headquarters on the outskirts of Bishkek for what they had billed a victory concert.

Framed by floodlights, supporters of the opposition leader packed into the courtyard outside the building, dancing to traditional Kyrgyz folk music, waving white flags and shouting "down with Bakiyev", and other slogans.

Although several groups of young men told AFP that they were planning to march into the center of Bishkek in defiance of a government ban, the concert ended without incident and the city was quiet as results came in.

The government earlier called in more than 5,000 troops to Bishkek for the election, and Bakiyev issued a stern warning Thursday against attempts to organise illegal protests.

"We will suppress, within the limits of the law, any attempts to organize disorder, and will not tolerate the destabilization of the situation in the country," Bakiyev said in comments released by his press service.

Kyrgyzstan has a history of political violence, and Bakiyev himself came to power after a popular uprising in 2005.

Underscoring the potential for violence, the opposition said that police had dispersed a crowd of 1,000 Atambayev supporters in the city of Balykchi by firing their guns into the air.

But the interior ministry disputed the allegation, saying it had used smoke grenades to disperse a crowd led by two opposition MPs who were attempting to storm a polling station.

Turnout appeared to be heavy in Bishkek, where polling stations were packed from the early hours of the morning.

"I will vote for Bakiyev, because he's doing real, concrete things for the economy and for the country," said Anatoly, a 77-year-old pensioner.

But Aida, a student, said that she would use her vote as a form of protest: "Bakiyev hasn't acted transparently and corruption has not disappeared, so I will vote 'against all' because I don't believe any of them."

Kyrgyzstan drew international attention earlier this year because of its threat to close a US airbase on its territory used to support military operations in Afghanistan.

Bakiyev vowed in February to close the Manas airbase -- a decision widely believed to have been made under Russian pressure -- in what would have been a blow to US President Barack Obama's efforts against the Taliban.

But he changed course in recent weeks after Washington agreed to triple the rent it pays for the base.

Domestically, Bakiyev has struggled to improve living conditions in a country where, according to the World Bank, the average monthly income is just 162 dollars.

Hundreds of international observers monitored Thursday's vote, including more than 200 from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It will give its verdict on the conduct of the election Friday.