Draft Kyrgyz charter gets OK

New constitution would shift power from the president to parliament

November 08, 2006|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- After six days of anti-government protests, opposition and pro-government lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan said last night that they had agreed to a new draft constitution sharply reducing the president's power. The document will be considered by the full 75-member parliament today, they said.

It was not immediately clear whether President Kurmanbek Bakiyev would agree to the proposed constitution, but he has said previously that he would go along with a shift in powers from the presidency to parliament.

The opposition is demanding that Bakiyev accept the constitutional reforms or resign, along with Prime Minister Felix Kulov. The two came to power last year in a largely nonviolent people's revolution, but many of their former supporters have been disappointed by a perceived failure to crack down on corruption, nepotism and violent crime.

The compromise came at the end of a day in which thousands of opposition and pro-government demonstrators clashed in the capital, Bishkek, prompting police to use tear gas and fire rubber bullets. Eighteen protesters and 17 policemen were injured, Bishkek police said.

"The situation in the city has stabilized and is under law enforcement agencies' control," a police statement said.

The mountainous ex-Soviet state of 5.2 million people, predominantly Muslim, borders China and is host to U.S. and Russian military bases. Washington, Moscow and Beijing compete for influence.

After last night's agreement, former parliament Speaker Omurbek Tekebayev, head of the For Reforms movement, which has spearheaded the protests, went to the city's central square to urge the crowd of about 2,000 to disperse. Thousands more protesters had been in the square earlier.

"Go home for now," Tekebayev said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. He told them the rally would resume this morning. Other rally leaders said several hundred people planned to stay at the square overnight, despite fears of violence.

"We fear an attack on the tent city by members of organized criminal groups and criminal elements recruited by the incumbent authorities," a statement from the For Reforms movement said. "We are requesting diplomatic missions and international organizations to send their observers to the square."

Political tensions had escalated yesterday after an overnight session of parliament at which 40 opposition deputies approved a new constitution without following the procedures required by the current constitution.

Bakiyev then threatened to call new parliamentary elections if the conflict escalated.

"I have not set myself the goal of dissolving parliament," he said yesterday morning, in remarks carried on Russian television. "But I have such a constitutional right and, of course, if contradictions between the Legislature and the executive continue, what will I have left to do?"

By last night, legislators had agreed to a new draft that would shift power to parliament and make Russian an official state language alongside Kyrgyz, Interfax reported.

Kyrgyzstan has a significant ethnic Russian minority from the days when it was part of the Soviet Union, and many educated Kyrgyz know Russian better than their native language.

Changes to the constitution must be approved by at least 51 members of parliament, with additional procedures also required.

The chief of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, Murat Sutalinov, said protesters would not be allowed to remain in the square overnight. "Bishkek is sick and tired of it," he said.

If the protests develop into riots, police and security forces will act "efficiently, resolutely and within the limits of the law," Sutalinov said.

David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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