The U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan criticized the ex-Soviet republic's government on Wednesday for failing to ensure free elections, as opposition supporters continued to rally across the country against alleged voting fraud. Ambassador Stephen Young said Sunday's runoff parliamentary elections and the original vote on Feb. 27 were marred by harassment of independent media, government interference in the campaign process, media bias in favor of pro-government candidates and the disqualification of opposition candidates. He also noted "rampant vote buying by candidates on both sides." "These negative tendencies have damaged Kyrgyzstan's reputation for promoting democracy," Young said. The opposition accuses authorities of widespread abuses in the elections, in which President Askar Akayev secured an overwhelmingly loyal Parliament. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote had significant problems. The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday the elections were seriously flawed and called on Akayev's government to investigate allegations of fraud and misconduct "promptly and transparently." The government has dismissed the allegations. Hundreds of people have rallied against the alleged fraud and demanded Akayev step down in several districts since the first round of voting. The protests intensified after Sunday's runoff. "The fact that demonstrations have occurred in several corners of the country is a sign that many Kyrgyz citizens felt disappointed by their government's failure to run a truly free, fair and transparent process," Young said told reporters. But he urged both the authorities and protesters to "do nothing to raise the prospect of violence or conflict as a result of those demonstrations." The protesters have occupied several local government buildings. On Monday, they seized the regional governor and a district chief in the western Talas region. The parliamentary polls are to be followed by a presidential election in October. Akayev has pledged to step down and comply with a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms. But the opposition fears Akayev, who has tried to tighten control in recent years, could use a compliant Parliament to extend his 15-year rule. Among the newly elected lawmakers are Akayev's daughter, Bermet, and son, Aidar. Akayev's "decision to step down this fall will mark a major advance in the development of Kyrgyzstan's democracy and serve as a powerful example to the other states in the region," Young said. Akayev is seen as the most liberal of the veteran leaders in ex-Soviet Central Asia, who all have clung to power through dubious legal changes and referendums. Associated Press
Twenty years later, the cause of death of 118 Kursk submariners remains a mystery. the Russian navy was unable to save the dying men.