BISHKEK/OSH: Kyrgyzstan voted on Sunday to create Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy, its interim leader said, in a landmark referendum two weeks after an explosion of ethnic bloodshed. Roza Otunbayeva said the country had embarked on the path to establishing a “true people's democracy” in contrast to previous presidential systems in the former Soviet republic....
BISHKEK/OSH: Kyrgyzstan voted on Sunday to create Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy, its interim leader said, in a landmark referendum two weeks after an explosion of ethnic bloodshed.
Roza Otunbayeva said the country had embarked on the path to establishing a “true people's democracy” in contrast to previous presidential systems in the former Soviet republic.
“The new constitution of the Kyrgyz republic has been approved,” she said at a news conference in the capital Bishkek, after earlier voting amid heavy security in the troubled southern city of Osh. “We are proud of our people. We are proud of our country, which made this choice at a difficult hour.”
At least 283 people, and possibly hundreds more, died this month in violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic that hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases and shares a border with China.
Under the new charter, Otunbayeva — the first woman to lead a Central Asian state — will be interim president until the end of 2011. Parliamentary elections will be held every five years and the president limited to a single six-year term.
The United States and Russia say they would support a strong government to prevent the turmoil spreading throughout Central Asia, a region bordering Afghanistan in which all countries have until now been run by authoritarian presidents.
The referendum asked voters to support changes to the constitution that will devolve power from the president to a prime minister, paving the way for parliamentary elections in October and diplomatic recognition for the interim government.
Otunbayeva said 65 percent of the electorate had voted.The central election commission put the figure at 57.74 percent, although ballot papers were still being counted after polls closed at 8:00 p.m. local time (1400 GMT). No minimum turnout was required.
Otunbayeva, a former ambassador to the United States and Britain, took power after a revolt in April overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Though from the south, she has struggled to gain control of the region, Bakiyev's family stronghold. In a clear reference to her predecessor, Otunbayeva said: “Today the nation said: 'No to family clan regimes'.”
From his exile in Belarus, Bakiyev has earlier dismissed the referendum and the leader who replaced him, saying her behavior was “frivolous and irresponsible”. “She is leading the country into a dead end,” he said in an
interview in the online edition of German weekly Der Spiegel. “A strong president acts more swiftly.”
VOTERS TURN OUT DESPITE VIOLENCE
The bloodshed deepened divisions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks who have roughly equal shares of the population in the south. Many ethnic Uzbeks said they were targeted in the violence and were loath to support the referendum, seeing it as a Kyrgyz initiative. But some Uzbeks voted early in the day, and friends who had not seen each other since the bloodshed began on June 10 embraced in polling-station queues in neighborhoods of Osh.
“We have to live through this turbulent period, but when we get a real government it will all be stable again,” said Andrei Abdullayev, an Uzbek veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
He was one of 600 ethnic Uzbek vigilantes guarding a neighbourhood of Osh where a disused vodka distillery served as a polling station. Laundry lines hung between the walls of burnt-out homes where people live without the shelter of a roof.
Farida Marasulayeva was among the tens of thousands of refugees who returned home after days sleeping rough or in camps at the Uzbek border. “We just want to live in peace,” she said after voting, cradling her year-old son in her arms.
Election officials accompanied by armed guards carried transparent ballot boxes to locals who were too afraid to visit the polling stations, ticking off names as the boxes filled up.
“They all fear for their lives,” said Nigora Abdyjanarova, an election official who carried a ballot box from door to door. “Anything is possible now. Anyone could get shot, so we have come here to give them the chance to vote.”
Several women said they could still hear gunfire each night. Interim government spokesman Farid Niyazov said a curfew that was lifted for the referendum had been reinstated until August 10. Agencies