European and CIS observers argue over Uzbekistan vote

In Uzbekistan ballots are being counted in the country's presidential election. International observers from the CIS reported that they saw no violations during the Sunday vote. However, the OSCE has said in a statement that the election failed to meet an

The election has been declared valid as the Uzbek Central Election Commission says more than 90% of voters have cast their ballots. Authorities say the first results will be known on Monday afternoon.

Voters were choosing between four candidates, including current leader Islam Karimov. He has been in power for 18 years. Coming to power in Soviet times, he was elected president after the Soviet Union collapsed. He has been re-elected since.

Now changes in the constitution allowed the 69-year-old Karimov to appear on the ballot for a third time. He is expected to be the front-runner in the vote.

“I believe people know what they are voting for and they know it well: for tomorrow, for peace in our country, for our country's development and prosperity,” said Islam Karimov.

The current election is being monitored by almost 300 international observers.

The president will be elected for a seven-year term. The candidate who gains more than half the votes will be the winner.

Major gas and cotton producer

Uzbekistan is one of the world's ten-largest gas producers, and the second-largest cotton exporter. It possesses vast gold deposits. The climbing prices for these commodities have boosted the country's economy.

Most of the population, however, still lives in poverty and the government tightly controls most business activity.

Human rights groups have often criticised his regime for violating basic freedoms. The authorities were heavily criticised in 2005, when troops fired on protesters in the city of Andijan. Although many sources claim hundreds were killed as a result, the government said the death toll was less than two hundred and blamed the revolt on Islamists.

The opposition thinks the vote was not free or fair, but virtually no-one is prepared to speak out publicly and although more than 250 international observers were monitoring the vote, no major violations have been reported.

There are no exit polls for this election. The vote count continues, but it seems no one is expecting any surprises.