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Russia worried as Kyrgyzstan backs new constitution

Kyrgyz voters massively backed a constitution establishing a parliamentary democracy, results said today, but Russia warned the changes risked fanning instability after deadly ethnic clashes.

world Updated: Jun 28, 2010 12:07 IST

Kyrgyz voters massively backed a constitution establishing a parliamentary democracy, results said on Monday, but Russia warned the changes risked fanning instability after deadly ethnic clashes.

Over 90 percent of voters in Sunday's referendum backed the new constitution that would set up ex-Soviet Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy, said preliminary results based on 96 percent of the electoral districts.

The vote was hailed as a "victory" by the new Kyrgyz government led by interim leader Roza Otunbayeva which came to power last April amid bloody riots that ousted former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Several observers had warned that the poll was recklessly premature, coming just two weeks after deadly ethnic clashes between majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks killed hundreds of people in the country's south.

"The people have put a full stop on the epoch of the authoritarian, family rule of the previous regimes," Otunbayeva said in a statement released by her office.

"All of us have achieved a great victory on the path to establishing a full government of the people," said Otunbayava, who had confidently declared that the constitution had been approved just hours after polls closed.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who has stung Bishkek by warning over the last weeks the country risked breaking-up was far less enthusiastic about the outcome.

"I have a hard time imagining that a parliamentary republic could work in Kyrgyzstan, that it won't provoke a series of problems and encourage the rise to power of extremist forces," Medvedev told reporters at the G20 summit.

"Kyrgyzstan is confronted by many problems, notably the threat of breaking up. To avoid this you need a strong, well-organized authority," he said.

Most of ex-Soviet Central Asia is ruled by authoritarian leaders, many of whom who have been in power without interruption since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kyrgyzstan's political volatility which has seen two regimes fall in popular uprisings in the space of a half decade has always been the exception.

The strategically-located state's instability has always caused concerns beyond the region, given it houses both Russian and US military bases, the only country in the world to do so.

Human Rights Watch also said the referendum threatened to make the situation "even more volatile" while the International Crisis Group urged the government to reconsider the holding of the poll.

According to the central election commission, 90.7 percent of voters backed the new constitution on the back of a mass turnout of 69.5 percent. Just 8.0 percent voted against.

There were no reports of violence, even in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad that were the epicentre of the clashes.

The authorities temporarily lifted a curfew in the south imposed in the wake of the violence so that the vote could go ahead but then reimposed the measure starting late on Sunday.

The new constitution will slash the powers of the president set the stage for parliamentary elections that authorities have scheduled for early September to bring in a permanent government. Otunbayeva will serve as president until 2011 elections.

The clashes killed 294 people according to the latest toll, and displaced hundreds of thosands of people. At least 75,000 fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan but all of these have now returned, authorities said.

Victims of the unrest have told AFP that the violence was a brutal and orchestrated campaign by armed Kyrgyz militias targeting Uzbeks, who make up about 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population of 5.3 million.

Officials have said the true death toll could have been as high as 2,000. Bakiyev, who has taken sanctuary in Belarus, was blamed by the authorities for the bloodshed but has denied any involvement.

First Published: Jun 28, 2010 11:59 IST