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Kyrgyz Citizens Overwhelmingly Approve New Constitution

Kyrgyz election officials say voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, weeks after deadly inter-ethnic clashes threatened to destabilize the country.  Meanwhile, opposition parties have cast doubt on the results, while Russia has expressed concerns about the country's future.

Kyrgyzstan's central elections committee says 90 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of a new constitution that will increase the power of parliament and lay the groundwork for national elections.  The country's interim leader, Roza Otunbayeva, heralded the results.  She says the referendum was valid and succeeded despite fierce resistance from its opponents.

Ms. Otunbayeva had pushed for the referendum, despite calls that it be delayed in the aftermath of inter-ethnic clashes in the south earlier this month.  The fighting killed hundreds of people and displaced some 400,000 others, mainly ethnic Uzbeks.  The provisional government, which took power following the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, hopes approval of the new constitution will grant it more legitimacy.

Some members of the opposition accuse the government of falsifying the results of the referendum and the reported high voter turnout of 70 percent.  International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Kyrgyz authorities, for the most part, administered the vote in a transparent manner.

Jens Eschenbaecher, a spokesperson for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, says, "Under the circumstances this referendum was held, the authorities did a good job in organizing this process.  It is now time in the coming months to address the shortcoming that were observed in lieu of the upcoming parliamentary elections later this year."

Citing the short-comings, the OSCE says the registration process was imperfect and there were not enough safeguards to prevent multiple voting.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev told reporters at the G-20 summit in Toronto, Canada, that he has doubts about the new Kyrgyz government.  He said he cannot image that the parliament republic model will work in Kyrgyzstan.  He also expressed concerns that a weak government will allow extremist elements to gain power.

But Sergei Abashin an analyst with the Russian Academy of Sciences, says the new system could be an improvement for Kyrgyzstan, which he says has been ruled for the past 20 years by a series of strong-arm presidents.  Abashin says the opposition was pushed out of politics and into the streets, which created the scenario for unrest - causing revolutions and endless rallies - and showed authoritarian rule does not work. He described the new Kyrgyz parliamentary system as an "experiment" and said it could be successful if it includes the various political factions in the process.

Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet republic that houses both Russian and U.S. military bases.  Russia has expressed concerns before about a lack of security in the country, and its role as a major route for drug trafficking.

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