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Kyrgyz President Signs New Constitution to Limit His Powers


Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has signed a new constitution that will limit his powers while strengthening those of parliament. The move significantly eases political tensions in the country, following a week of mass street protests in the capital, Bishkek.

By signing the new constitution, President Bakiyev appears to have staved off the first major threat to his rule since taking office 16 months ago. He assumed power after a violent uprising ousted the long-ruling Soviet-style leader, Askar Akayev.

Mr. Bakiyev approved the new constitution Thursday after swift but tense negotiations with the opposition.

The president says the document is the result of good sense and wisdom.

Parliament passed changes to the constitution late Wednesday reducing the president's powers. Opposition lawmakers had pushed for the amendments - saying Mr. Bakiyev failed to deliver on promises of democratic reforms.

The move appears to have diffused growing unrest - which brought protesters out onto the streets of the capital.

By midday Thursday, opposition demonstrators had dismantled nearly all the tents (yurts) they had pitched in Bishkek's central square - the main site of their weeklong demonstrations.

However, some 300 pro-government supporters continue to demonstrate. They are calling for the current parliament to be dissolved and for a new constitution to be adopted by a national referendum.

Independent political analyst Kumar Bekbalatov, who heads the Bishkek office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, tells VOA the constitution is a compromise and a triumph for both sides.

"The main difference [from the old Constitution] is, to what extent should the influence of the president be curbed? Other main differences are in [the] number of deputies who will be elected by popular selection and through single mandate district elections," Bekbalatov said. "Also, there are some key differences in the way the government - meaning the cabinet of ministers and the president - [will] make appointments on key, critical agencies in the government."

Bekbalatov says the opposition agreed that President Bakiyev and the current parliament would remain in place until their terms expire in 2010.

Recent events in Kyrgyzstan were monitored with great concern by The United States and Russia. Both nations maintain military bases in the Central Asian nation, which is located very near Afghanistan.

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