11 November 2006

New constitution ends street protests

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan—President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Thursday signed a new constitution that limits his powers and increases those of the Parliament, ending a week of angry demonstrations in the nation’s capital demanding his resignation.

The parliament gave its approval to the changes late Wednesday. The new constitution allows Bakiyev, Prime Minister Felix Kulov and members of parliament to remain in office until their terms expire in 2010.

Bakiyev and Kulov came into power in March 2005 during the Tulip Revolution, which ousted President Askar Akiev, who held the position since Kygryzstan achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The Movement for Reforms, which organized the demonstrations in Bishkek, claimed Bakiyev and Kulov had failed to deliver on the reforms they promised after assuming their offices.

The amended constitution will increase the number of parliament members from 75 to 90 and gives the majority party the power to name the prime minister. Parliament will also elect the cabinet, which will now direct the activities of the national security agency, which had been under the direct control of the presidency. Less clear is the role of judiciary, which has been criticized for its lack of independence.

The constitutional reforms represent a compromise for the opposition, who souight broader reforms and the immediate resignations of Bakiyev and Kulov. Tensions between the opposition movement and a smaller number of pro-Bakiyev demonstrators peaked Tuesday, when the latter group initiated a bottle-and stick-throwing exchange in front of the parliament building. The military dispersed the factions with concussive charges and tear gas.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous republic in Central Asia about the size of South Dakota, has a population of about 5 million and strategically borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Both the United States and Russia have military bases in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. base was established in 1991 to support military operations in nearby Afghanistan.

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