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BISHKEK - Kyrgyzstan began voting on Sunday in a presidential election with no candidate expected to win outright and observers predicting a close runoff between two pro-Russian candidates, one of whom is backed by the outgoing leader.
The mainly Muslim nation of 6 million people is already a close ally of Moscow and hosts a Russian military base, helping its former Soviet overlord project power across the region where China and the United States also vie for influence.
In contrast to its Central Asian neighbors, mostly run by autocrats, Kyrgyzstan is a boisterous democracy that produces sometimes chaotic changes of leadership.
After its first two presidents after the Soviet Union's demise were ousted by violent riots, the country restyled itself as a parliamentary republic where presidential powers are mostly limited to foreign policy and security matters.
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