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Kyrgyzstan to proceed with constitutional referendum despite violence

Kyrgyzstan interim President Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile] on Tuesday announced that the referendum seeking approval of a new constitution [text, DOC, in Russian] and a popular mandate for the interim government will be held June 27 despite ongoing ethnic violence [Guardian backgrounder] against the Kyrgyz Uzbek population. The constitution was approved by the interim government [JURIST report] in May and would shift power from the president to the prime minister, define Kyrgyzstan as a secular state, limit the president to one six-year term in office and increase the number of seats in parliament from 90 to 120. The UN and EU have been urging the interim government not to postpone the referendum [BBC report], despite the outbreak in violence on Thursday that has so far left 170 people dead and 1,400 wounded, according to official numbers. Casualty figures have been estimated to be much higher [Al Jazeera report] by Uzbek community leaders and the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website]. The cause of the violence is unclear, but UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay [official website] and witnesses have described it as organized. One motivation proposed for an orchestration of violence is to cause a delay of the June 27 referendum by allies of ousted Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile]. The interim government has accused the former president's son of paying USD $10 million to finance the violence. He was arrested in the UK on Monday, and the interim government has promised to seek his extradition.

On Sunday, Otunbayeva issued shoot to kill orders [JURIST report] to the nation's military after the reservists were activated and sent to quell the ethnic conflict that has been primarily focused in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal'abad. The lull in violence seen Tuesday is partly attributed to this action, but it has also faced criticism from Pillay [press release], who stated that "the right to life and the right not to be tortured cannot be set aside during an emergency." The reserves were activated after the Russian government refused a request by the interim government to send peacekeeping troops, a request that was withdrawn Tuesday. Additionally on Sunday, Otunbayeva declared a state of emergency in the south and established a curfew [DW report] for Osh and the surrounding areas. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] expressed his concern [BBC report] over the violence on Sunday, stating that he would coordinate relief efforts with the government of Kazakhstan and the EU. On Sunday, an estimated 80,000 ethnic Uzbeks sought to cross the border into neighboring Uzbekistan, where the Uzbek government had been hastily establishing refugee camps before finally closing the border [CNN report] Tuesday. The violence is thought to be linked to the overthrow of Bakiyev, who was ousted from power in April [JURIST report]. Bakiyev's main support base was in southern Kyrgyzstan, whereas ethnic Uzbeks have been more likely to support the interim government.

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