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Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan votes to elect second-ever president after Soviet-era strongman's death

Resource-rich Uzbekistan is set to elect its second-ever president since gaining independence in 1991. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the prime minister of the late strongman Islam Karimov, is expected to easily carry the vote.

Voters in the highly repressive Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan headed to the polls on Sunday to elect the country's second president since the fall of the Soviet Union. The vote follows the death of longtime leader Islam Karimov, whose restrictive regime was known internationally for constant allegations of human rights abuses, including killings and torture.

Karimov became the Uzbek leader under communism, and continued to rule the country after its independence in 1991. He died in September following complications from a stroke, and his prime minister of 13 years, Shavkat Mirziyoyev (pictured above), has stepped in as acting president.

Mirziyoyev is expected to win the five-year mandate comfortably in a country where the incumbent usually garners around 90 percent of the vote in less-than-transparent elections.

No discernible difference between candidates

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have called Sunday's election "moderately visible," but criticized the fact that Mirziyoyev's so-called rivals had not presented any clear policy plans and did not seem to differ very much from one another.

"There is no perceptible exchange of views among the candidates with regard to their programs," wrote the OSCE in an interim report. "All candidates refrain from criticizing the government or each other, and claim to target distinct segments of the electorate."

Observers have noted, however, that although Karimov had not named a presumptive successor, the continued stability under Mirziyoyev between the country's religious and ethnic groups is a sign he has been accepted by the populace.

After independence in 1991, Uzbekistan pursued an intense isolationism that focused on internal self-reliance. The country carefully balanced relations with Russia and the West, sometimes using its vast natural resources and border with Afghanistan to play the two off against each other.

A visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin immediately following Karimov's death, however, signaled to many Moscow's desire to build closer ties with the country of 32 million inhabitants and vast reserves of precious metals and natural gas.

es/cmk (AFP, AP)

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