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Kyrgyzstan Uneasy Ahead of Sunday Referendum

Kyrgyzstan holds a referendum on a new constitution Sunday amid fears the vote could spark renewed clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the country's south.

Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, who came to power after an April 7 uprising that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and killed 85 people, has refused to postpone the plebiscite.

Security is tight throughout the capital, Bishkek, and in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad, where the ethnic violence that erupted on June 10 killed an estimated 2,000 people. Many in the south still support the deposed president, who now lives in Belarus.

The referendum, which has been backed by the United States and Russia, is intended to reduce the authority of the president and give more power to a democratically elected parliament.

However, critics say it does not do enough to address the underlying problems that provoked the unrest.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said Saturday the government's decision to proceed with the polls could be the spark that ignites additional violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

The group called for an international inquiry into the unrest in Kyrgyzstan, saying the inter-ethnic violence was systematic and well-organized. It added that many Uzbeks do not believe the interim government will conduct an objective and impartial investigation.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.