Kyrgyzstan approves new constitution after deadly ethnic violence

By Simon Shuster, AP
Monday, June 28, 2010

Kyrgyzstan OKs constitution after ethnic unrest

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — International observers are praising the constitutional referendum in Kyrgyzstan as a remarkably peaceful and largely transparent process, despite the climate of fear created by recent ethnic violence.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement Monday that Sunday’s vote, in which the public overwhelmingly backed the interim government, did have some procedural shortcomings.

Boris Frlec, head of the observation mission, said, however, “the provisional government … should be commended for organizing a remarkably peaceful process” and that the referendum was “largely transparent.”

The referendum is an important step on the road to democracy for the interim government, which came to power after a bloody uprising in April.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Election officials in Kyrgyzstan said Monday the public has overwhelmingly backed a new constitution, a key step toward stability in this Central Asian nation still reeling from deadly ethnic violence.

More than 90 percent voted “yes” in Sunday’s referendum, with 5 percent of the ballots remaining to be counted, said Central Elections Committee spokeswoman Galina Skripkina. About 8 percent voted against it. Some 2.7 million people were eligible to vote, and turnout was nearly 70 percent, she said.

The vote went ahead even though many of the 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks forced to flee have not returned.

Election officials said the final tally would be announced later Monday, when international observers were scheduled to announce their findings. Observers from the leading domestic NGOs reported no significant procedural issues with the vote.

The referendum — supported by the U.N., the U.S. and Russia — is seen as an important step on the road to democracy for the interim government, which came to power after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April following deadly street protests. The new consitution strips power from the president and gives more authority to parliament.

Roza Otunbayeva said she now would be inaugurated as a caretaker president and form her government. Its members will form a lawmaking assembly which will pass the necessary legislation until parliamentary elections in October.

Rampages by ethnic-majority Kyrgyz mobs in southern Kyrgyzstan this month killed as many as 2,000 people and forced 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks to temporarily flee. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had 25 observers monitoring the vote but none in Osh or Jalal-Abad — the cities were the violence was centered — because it still considered them too dangerous.

Activists and journalists in the south, however, saw no signs of election-day violence. Otunbayeva and other officials also said the vote took place without incident.

Voters in the southern city of Osh — the epicenter of the unrest — sounded upbeat early Monday.

“We hope, we must hope for something so that our children will live better. We believe in Roza Otunbayeva. She can understand what life we have, and she can make it better to live together with people of all nationalities,” Gulnara Nasyrova told Associated Press Television News.

The government changed voting rules on Friday so minority Uzbeks who had fled the violence but had no identity documents on them could still vote. But many of them were still absent and could not do so.

Central Election Commission chief Akylbek Sariev rejected critics who said the vote should have been postponed because of the violence that flared for several days beginning June 10.

“We couldn’t delay that because the power of the state had to be established,” Sariev told the AP. “The state of the nation was at stake.”

The provisional authorities accuse Bakiyev’s followers of instigating the recent attacks to try to stop the referendum, a charge that Bakiyev, now living in Belarus, denies.

Uzbeks have mostly supported the interim government, while Kyrgyz in the south backed Bakiyev, whose regime was seen as corrupt.

Both the United States and Russia have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. Manas air base is a key transit center for U.S. and NATO troops flying in and out of Afghanistan.

Otunbayeva said Sunday that her government will keep the country’s foreign policy unchanged, maintaining close ties with ex-Soviet neighbors in Central Asia, as well as Russia and China. “We will also continue our partnerships with the countries of the European Union and also with the United States,” she said.

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