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Calls to Halt Kyrgyz Referendum Grow

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Gabe Joselow

Political parties in Kyrgyzstan are calling for the government to drop plans to hold a referendum on Sunday, saying the security situation is still too unstable. Ongoing raids by Kyrgyz authorities are fueling fear and mistrust in the government.

While violence has subsided in the past few days, Kyrgyz political parties are urging the country's leaders to cancel a planned vote on constitutional reforms.

But the country's interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, has insisted on pressing on with the referendum.

Authorities hope that enacting the reforms, which will clear the way for parliamentary and presidential elections, will give the government more legitimacy.

But, Alisher Khamidov, a journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan, says the vote may have the opposite effect.

"I think that there are, already, concerns that the interim government will use their control of the local governments to stuff the ballots and rig the vote," Khamidov said.

He says with 80,000 eligible voters having fled the country entirely, and many more displaced - a fair vote is unlikely to take place.

Meantime, Kyrgyz security forces are continuing security sweeps in ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in the southern city of Osh, where ethnic clashes first erupted.

Kyrgyz authorities say they have been searching for weapons in these raids. But many Uzbeks claim the security forces are using that as a pretext to extort money from residents.

Violence in southern Kyrgyzstan has killed an estimated 2,000 people since clashes broke out June 10.

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