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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March, 2005, 17:03 GMT
Voting ends in close Kyrgyz poll
Kyrgyz voter
Nearly 400 candidates fought for 75 seats in the two-round polls
Voting has ended in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan where more than half the seats in parliament had to be filled after an indecisive first round.

Last month's first round failed to return outright winners in about 40 of the country's 75 electoral districts.

The authorities have denied claims by European observers that the first round failed to meet international standards.

Correspondents say the polls are a key test for President Askar Akayev ahead of a presidential election in October.

Mr Akayev, who came to power in the former Soviet state in 1990, has said he will stand down, as required by the constitution.

Opposition groups, however, accuse him of wanting to extend his term in office.

The BBC's Ian MacWilliam in Bishkek notes that the United States and the European Union hope he will stand down.

He would thus set an example for other post-Soviet leaders in this authoritarian region, who have all used questionable elections to stay in power, our correspondent says.

Thumb control

Heavy rain through much of the day ensured relatively slow voting in most of the country.

However an anti-government protest continued in the south of the republic, where a few hundred people have been occupying a government building for over a week.

Nationwide, the turnout had reached 60% by the time polling stations closed, Kyrgyz state TV reports. First results were not due to be released for several hours.

Election officials in polling stations in Bishkek said they were pleased with the orderliness of the vote but opposition groups have again said there were violations.

They accuse some candidates of bussing in supporters to polling stations, which is forbidden under Kyrgyz law, and they say the authorities have been using their positions to persuade people to vote for pro-government candidates.

As in the first round of elections, voters' thumbs were marked with a special ink - an American-funded innovation to prevent multiple voting - which has been common in the past.

The ink becomes visible when a special ultra-violet light is shone on it.

Some older people were afraid of this new technology and refused to vote as a result.

'Vote of confidence'

On the eve of the run-offs, Mr Akayev said the decision on Friday by the Paris Club of creditor nations to write off 60% of Kyrgyzstan's external debt was a vote of confidence in his country.

"It seems to me that the Paris Club, made up of developed democratic countries, by its decision is showing confidence in the policies of our country which is step by step making the difficult ascent to the heights of democracy," he said.

But the president has accused US-funded groups promoting democracy in Kyrgyzstan of destabilising the country.

Protests before Kyrgyzstan vote
23 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyzstan feels wind of change
03 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Military rivalry in Kyrgyzstan
25 Oct 03 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Kyrgyzstan
23 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

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