Kyrgyz president surrenders his powers
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan’s president surrendered some of his powers Thursday in a bid to defuse a political crisis that had threatened to plunge the former Soviet republic into chaos for the second time in less than three years.President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power in the Central Asian nation after an uprising in March 2005, signed into law constitutional reforms demanded by the opposition.”The constitution is the result of an agreement reached between the various political powers in the country,” Bakiyev said. “It is a new step to perfect the foundations of the state. The new constitution is the result of good sense and wisdom.”The move came after a week of increasingly angry protests that led to violence between supporters of the government and the opposition, which includes many disgruntled former allies of the president.The tent city that had grown up outside the president’s office in the past week was dismantled Thursday, and opposition leader Omurbek Babanov said it was time to end the rallies and start building the economy.More than 10,000 opposition supporters thronged the capital Bishkek’s main square for a victory rally but some continued to demand Bakiyev’s resignation.”Bakiyev should have gathered his courage and stepped down,” said Talgat Kuradeyev, a 20-year-old activist. “But he is a coward. Bakiyev must go.”Many in the crowd broke into the chants that accompanied the opposition rallies for a week: “Bakiyev must go! Bakiyev must go!”Parliament appointed Bakiyev as president in March 2005 following opposition protests that ousted longtime ruler Askar Akayev. Bakiyev subsequently won election in a vote seen as democratic, but his rule has been marred by corruption, lawlessness and a weak economy.The protests against him were swelled by unemployed people who see no economic prospects in the impoverished, mountainous country of some 5 million people.Kyrgyzstan is strategically located near China and Afghanistan and is seen as an example of secular democracy in a region dominated by autocratic regimes and the growing threat of Islamic militancy.Renewed instability would be a worry for the United States, which maintains its only military base in ex-Soviet Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan to back up anti-Taliban operations in nearby Afghanistan. Russia, which has strong influence in Kyrgyzstan, also has an air base in the country.The amendments included removing the president’s power to name the prime minister and giving it to the majority party in a new 90-member parliament. Kyrgyzstan’s main national security agency also will report to the government rather than the president under the new constitution, State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov said.But the new charter appeared to leave room for further discord. Lawmakers said that if no party wins a majority in parliament the president will be able to decide which one picks the prime minister.In a concession to the president, the opposition also agreed that Bakiyev and the parliament will remain in place until their terms run out in 2010, opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev said.Underlying Kyrgyzstan’s political struggles are clan rivalries and a deep north-south divide. Bakiyev is from the south.But the chief issue uniting the protesters was Bakiyev’s foot-dragging over the sweeping reform he had promised after winning office. He later signaled that he wanted to postpone reform until 2009.Parliament approved the new constitution in two quick votes late Wednesday.—Associated Press reporter Leila Saralayeva contributed to this report.