October 2, 2010 / 12:32 PM / in 8 years

Kyrgyzstan tense as parliamentary vote nears - OSCE

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan is highly volatile after June’s ethnic clashes and there are widespread fears an election next weekend could trigger new violence, Europe’s leading vote monitoring group has said.

Kyrgyzstan's President Roza Otunbayeva speaks during the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 22, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The interim government of Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet nation hosting U.S. and Russian military air bases, has struggled to control southern parts of the country since assuming power after a bloody revolt on Apr. 7 that toppled the president.

Nearly 400 people were killed, and possibly hundreds more, during several days of violence in southern Kyrgyzstan in June. Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the region also left many thousands of people homeless.

Kyrgyzstan will hold an election on October 10 intended to create Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy, where the prime minister will have more power than the president.

So far the campaign has been competitive and highly visible, and all 29 contesting parties have been able to campaign freely without major incidents, vote monitors of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in an interim report.

However, it added: “The overall security situation remains very tense with reports of incidents of disappearances and violence. Tensions continue to be high, especially in the south.”

This may deter voters from casting their ballots, “especially amongst the ethnic Uzbek community,” the OSCE said in the report published on Friday evening.

“Despite efforts by the authorities to increase the presence of security services ... interlocutors asserted that election-related violence cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, they hope that the parliamentary elections can be a step towards stabilisation.”

INTIMIDATED UZBEKS MAY SHUN VOTING

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva has pledged during a visit to the south to ensure public security during the election and prevent mass disorders and inter-ethnic clashes.

But the OSCE cited local representatives as saying that ethnic Uzbeks may be deterred from voting by the strong recriminations over the June events and use of nationalist rhetoric by some parties.

All 29 parties running in the election have respected a rule about including national minorities in their candidate lists, but only six had placed such candidates in winning positions, the OSCE said.

The OSCE also said some parties had voiced concerns about vote-buying and abuse of administrative resources.

The OSCE, which has asked its member states to send 300 short-term observers for the election day, also pointed to “a general lack of trust in the authorities, especially among ethnic Uzbeks as a result of the June events.”

More than 90 percent of voters in a Jun. 27 referendum supported Otunbayeva’s plans for parliamentary democracy.

Under the new charter, Otunbayeva will be acting president until December 31, 2011. Parliamentary elections will be held every five years. No political party will be allowed more than 65 of the 120 parliamentary seats.

The president will be limited to a single six-year term, with greatly reduced powers, in contrast to the authoritarian rule in the other four former Soviet states in Central Asia.

Russia, which sees Kyrgyzstan as part of its sphere of influence, has strongly criticised the plans to build a parliamentary republic.

President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sep. 10 said he was afraid that it would end in a “catastrophe” for Kyrgyzstan.

The OSCE plans to send its 52 unarmed police monitors to southern Kyrgyzstan after the election to help safeguard the fragile peace in the area, but the move has been given a largely hostile reception by the local Kyrgyz majority.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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