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Kyrgyz Voters Approve Major Constitutional Changes - 2003-02-03

Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev won huge support in a constitutional referendum on Sunday, but some foreign analysts say the vote was flawed.

Around 86 percent of Kyrgyzstan's 2.5 million eligible voters turned out, in a referendum proposing sweeping constitutional change.

More than 75 percent endorsed the amendments and nearly 79 percent expressed confidence in the continued rule of the president. Under the new rules Kyrgyzstan will abolish one of the two chambers of parliament.

An observer for the International Foundation of Election Systems told reporters the referendum did not conform to international standards.

There were reports of multiple voting, and cases where local observers could not get to the polls. One was beaten up.

In addition, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's media watchdog has reported, what it calls, government harassment of a newspaper critical of the government's policies.

Last year, Kyrgyzstan invited legal experts from the Council of Europe to give an opinion on the proposed constitutional change.

They concluded that the amendments could lead to an "excessive concentration" of power with the president and endanger the balance of powers. They were disturbed by the president's power to dissolve parliament without good reason.

A spokesman said their advice was ignored and instead the president appointed a committee to work on constitutional change.

The OSCE office in charge of monitoring democratic institutions wanted Kyrgyzstan to postpone the referendum.

Acting Director, Steven Wagenseil, said the organization was only informed three-weeks ago of the date. He said the OSCE could not organize an effective observation program in that time.

Kyrgyzstan officials deny allegations that the new law is a presidential power grab.