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Kyrgyzstan election splits north, south

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan's north-south political rift is on display, as defeated southern candidates call for a new presidential election because of irregularities in Sunday's vote that returned a northern politician to power.

"There were tens of thousands of people shut out of the vote," said defeated presidential candidate Adahkan Madumarov, vowing to "to fight for every single vote of the electorate."

International observers said Kyrgyzstan's election proceeded smoothly and calmly, marking the first peaceful and lawful transfer of power in Central Asia since the end of the Soviet Union.

Alamzbek Atambayev, a northerner and former prime minister, won the presidential contest with nearly 63 percent of the vote, making a runoff election with the second-place candidate unnecessary.

Mr. Madumarov and Kamchibek Tashiyev, another nationalist candidate from the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, have called the election a "great mess" and have cited several irregularities in the voting process.

Thousands of would-be voters could not find their names on registration lists, Mr. Madumarov said.

In addition, Mr. Tashiyev told local media he was supposed to win the election because at least 1.5 million voters were expected to support him. His party, Ata-Zhurt, surprised many political observers in October 2010, when it won the largest number of seats in the first legislative elections after last year's revolution.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observed the election and said it was "overshadowed by significant irregularities ... especially during the counting and tabulation of votes."

But the OSCE added that it had "cautious optimism about the future of democracy in Kyrgyzstan."

Analysts say Mr. Atambaye's victory will likely advance the goals of the revolution. But they added that the country's north-south divide, between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, must be resolved.

"What is important is that, unlike Tashiyev or Madumarov, Atambayev is unlikely to bolster the presidential seat and [bring a] return to the same authoritarian regime - the key victory for the April 2010 revolutionaries," said Lilit Gevorgyan, a regional analyst for financial research firm IHS Global Insight, based in London.

"However, he is still facing the serious challenge of finding a compromise with the nationalist parties, as well as facing the root causes of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz animosity, which could prove to be a much more serious challenge than winning the presidential election."

Mr. Atambayev, who promoted unity in his election campaign, said Tuesday that he is ready to open negotiations with the opposition.

"We must get used to listening and understanding each other. We have had two revolutions, and it is enough," he said.

Authoritarian leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a popular uprising in April 2010, and Mr. Atambayev was elected prime minister of an interim government in December.

Southern Kyrgyzstan, a major transit area for Afghan heroin trafficking, was devastated last summer by deadly ethnic clashes that killed almost 500 people, mainly ethnic Uzbeks, the Associated Press reported. As the ethnic violence fueled nationalist sentiments within the country, Mr. Tashiyev and Mr. Madumarov saw their support bases grow.

The defeated candidates said they are not interested in entering negotiations with the new administration. Mr. Madumarov said he will work with other candidates who lost to set up new elections. He said parliament must hold an "extraordinary session" and make a decision on it.

Still, some voters said they were relieved about the election's outcome, even if it wasn't the one they had hoped for.

"It is good that nothing bad happened during elections and the life here is back in its normal way," said Gulnara, a woman from Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan who only gave her first name. "There were rumors that violence may occur on elections day but it looks like everything will be okay."

She said that although many people aren't happy about the outcome, "today people want peace more."

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