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Kyrgyzstan voters approve new constitution

Kyrgyzstan interim President Roza Otunbayeva [BBC profile] announced Sunday that voters approved a new constitution [text, DOC, in Russian] that will allow the interim government to establish a legitimate government through parliamentary elections in the fall. Otunbayeva will remain the acting president through 2011 when elections will be held to determine the next president, scheduled to take office in 2012. Under the new constitution, parliamentary elections will be held every five years, while presidential elections will be held every six years. The office of president will be limited to one six-year term. Otunbayeva indicated the results of the referendum are valid [Kabar report] and that the country is now on the path to democracy. The constitution, approved by the interim government [JURIST report] in May, shifts power from the president to the prime minister, defines Kyrgyzstan as a secular state and increases the number of seats in parliament from 90 to 120.

The government of Kyrgyzstan chose to proceed with the elections [JURIST report] despite ongoing ethnic violence [Guardian backgrounder] against the Kyrgyz Uzbek population. Earlier this month, 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 cause of the violence is unclear, but UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay [official website] and witnesses have described it as organized. One suggested motivation for the violence was to cause a delay of the 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 earlier this month, and the interim government has promised to seek his extradition. Despite the on-going violence, voter turnout for the referendum was reported to be about 65-percent.

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