Islam Karimov to run for re-election

Islam Karimov, the President of Uzbekistan, plans to run for re-election next month, despite controversy over the legitimacy of a third term for the authoritarian leader.

The Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday nominated Karimov as its candidate in the Dec. 23 vote, according to the weekly Asr XXI, which translates as Century 21.

"It's a big honor," Karimov was as saying at the meeting Tuesday after his nomination. "I truly realize all the responsibility that comes with your trust."

Karimov, 69, has ruled the Central Asian nation with an iron hand since before the 1991 Soviet collapse, stifling opposition and silencing critics.

He has won two presidential elections that were not recognized by international observers as free or fair, and had his term extended twice through referendums. His current term expired in January, but he exploited a legal loophole to stay for an extra year.

The constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms. While Karimov was already in his second term when constitutional changes adopted in 2002 extended presidential terms from five years to seven years, there has been no official explanation of his right to seek a third term.

Uzbekistan had hosted a U.S. air base supporting the U.S. military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, but kicked the U.S. troops out in the wake of Western criticism over the 2005 government suppression of an uprising in the eastern city of Andijan.

Four other pro-Karimov parties have nominated candidates for the presidential election, but they were seen by observers as nominal figures fielded to create an illusion of a democratic vote.

Five opposition candidates - including rights advocates, a writer and a street vendor - have been denied registration and faced official pressure, intimidation and threats. They are affiliated with the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition group, whose founder was sentenced in March 2006 to eight years in prison on money laundering charges he said were trumped up.

In a statement, the Tashkent-based Uzbek Rights Defense Alliance called on the international community not to recognize the election.

Also Wednesday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Uzbekistan should be condemned for flagrantly violating a global torture ban, as the United Nations' anti-torture panel prepared for a two-day hearing into treatment of inmates at Uzbek prisons.

In a 90-page report, Human Rights Watch accused Karimov's government of employing a wide range of torture methods on detainees, from beatings with truncheons and water bottles to asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, electric shocks and sexual humiliation.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova