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Kyrgyzstan Referendum Held Under Tight Security

  • Gabe Joselow

Constitutional referendum held amid fears vote could spark renewed clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

Kyrgyz citizens are voting in a constitutional referendum weeks after deadly inter-ethnic clashes sent parts of the country into a state of emergency.

Under the close watch of soldiers and police, Kyrgyz voters came out in large numbers to cast ballots at polling stations around the country.

The ballot asks voters to vote yes or no on a new constitution that would grant more power to the parliament and set the foundation for national elections.

Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, hopes that a "Yes" vote will give legitimacy to her government, which took power following the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April.

"Voting for stability, we think that there is no ground that the country split. We have one united country," Otunbayeva said.

Ms. Otunbayeva cast her ballot in the southern city of Osh, which was at the center of violent clashes between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks earlier this month. Hundreds of people were killed, and some 400,000 were displaced, mostly ethnic Uzbeks.

Independent journalist Nadir Ismailov says Kyrgyz and Uzbek voters are lining up in high numbers, despite lingering tension. He says many see the vote as an important step toward reconciliation.

"I talked with many people from both sides - with ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks - and all of them, their feeling is they want stability they want peace. And they believe, with this election it will come," Ismailov said

Kyrgyz election officials say voter turnout topped 40 percent just hours after the polls opened.

The United States and the United Nations have voiced support for the vote, which they see as an important step toward stabilizing the country.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are overseeing the voting process.

The head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Janez Lenarcic, reported some irregularities, but said that is to be expected.

"In our view the normative basis for the referendum at the moment is not very consistent," Lenarcic said. "However, that is understandable in light of the events in the country since early April, so you cannot expect that everything is perfect, starting with the legal framework."

The OSCE will deliver its full assessment of the vote Monday.