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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Tajik elections under threat

By Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo

Tajikistan's mainly Islamic opposition has demanded a postponement of next month's presidential election.

Otherwise it threatens to withdraw from the power-sharing body that is the cornerstone of the peace process that ended the country's five-year civil war.

The presidential elections are the first since the end of Tajikistan's long and bloody civil war

And, while it is the parliamentary elections next year that are the cornerstone of the peace plan, the presidential vote was still being seen as a crucial test of just how far along the path of peace and reconciliation this divided country had come.

'Bureaucratic obstacles'

Three opposition candidates had announced their intention to stand, including Davlat Usman, the opposition's former chief of staff.

But as the deadline for registration neared, then passed, the three candidates complained of bureaucratic obstacles, preventing them, they said, from gathering the 145,000 signatures needed to run.

As a result, with only three weeks to go until the election, the only candidate registered to stand is President Inomali Rahmanov himself.

Few are in any doubt he would have won anyway in a free and open contest.

He has ruled this country since the days of the civil war and, while under the peace process the opposition has for the first time a share of power, Mr Rahmanov's government still retains a virtual monopoly.

Tajikistan's fragile peace process has survived many such crises before and it's likely some compromise may yet be found.

But if it is not, the first election in a peaceful Tajikistan looks in danger of being seen as little more than a farce.

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