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Veteran Uzbekistan leader wins landslide majority in presidential elections

Veteran Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been re-elected with a massive majority, winning more than 90 percent of the vote. Western observers have been quick to criticize the campaign as unfair.

The country's electoral commission said on Monday 91 percent of voters turned out on Sunday to re-elect 77-year-old Karimov.

The former Communist Party member has ruled the Central Asian nation since 1989, beginning when Uzbekistan was still under Soviet rule.

No independent candidates were permitted to run in the campaign, with the three candidates who did take part representing parties loyal to Karimov.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the election as a farce, saying there was no "genuine opposition" to Karimov.

"In this environment, persistent legal and organizational shortcomings of the electoral process remained unaddressed," the group said.

It also expressed concerns over the number of people who voted by proxy.

Karimov's election directly contravenes Uzbekistan's constitution, which states that presidents can only be in power for no more than two consecutive terms.

This will be his fourth term in office.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to congratulate Karimov on his win, saying it was proof of his "high authority among his compatriots."

Crushing dissent

President Karimov's government is one of the most repressive in the world, with humanitarian group Human Rights Watch claiming there are between 10,000 and 12,000 political and religious prisoners in the country.

The strongman says he is trying to stop any radical Islamic elements from taking root in the largely Muslim nation.

A 2005 incident in which government troops killed hundreds of protesters strained relations with the West.

Uzbekistan later became a key supply route for NATO-led forces fighting in neighboring Afghanistan.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said local media outlets did not broadcast alternative viewpoints to Karimov to Uzbekistan's citizens, restricting their choices.

Almost all Western media have been banned from reporting inside the country, with journalists and activists continuing to face harassment.

In December the nation went to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections, in which exclusively pro-Karimov parties participated.

an/sb (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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