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CENTRAL ASIA: Weekly news wrap

Ankara, 5 January 2007 (IRIN) - Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on Saturday voted in favour of a new constitution in what has been billed as a step towards stability in the mountainous former Soviet republic, despite the opposition’s boycott of the vote.

The new law, which shifts power away from the presidency to the country’s parliament, is a watered-down version of a draft worked out on 9 November following a week of opposition protests in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, AFP reported.

“Today we have adopted a compromise version of the constitution, which is aimed at the stabilisation of the political situation in the country,” Marat Sultanov, the speaker of the country’s parliament, was quoted as saying.

Kyrgyz President Bakiyev, who took power following the ouster of former Kyrgyz leader Askar Akayev in March 2005, must sign the constitution for it take effect.

According to the AFP report, the necessary two-thirds majority was reached, with 50 of 72 parliament deputies voting in favour, just one against, and one abstention. However, 20 opposition members did not take part in the vote.

In Turkmenistan, political uncertainty continued this week following the death of Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov on 21 December. Niyazov, who single-handedly ruled over Turkmenistan following the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, left no political heir apparent to his office – a move leaving many to speculate over possible political instability in the largely desert, but energy-rich nation.

Meanwhile, acting president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov - nominated as one of the six presidential candidates by the country’s 2,500-strong People’s Council - pledged reforms at the start of his campaign leading up to the February poll, and reconfirmed his fidelity to Niyazov’s ideals, the BBC reported.

The Council amended the constitution on Tuesday to allow an acting president to stand.

On Monday, all six candidates pledged in statements to diligently follow the policies of Niyazov, who ruled the country for over two decades, the Associated Press reported.

“We are continuing the business of our Great Leader. This is the task for 2007 and for the following decade,” wrote candidate Ishanguli Nuriyev, Turkmenistan’s current oil, gas and mineral minister.

Another candidate, Ashirniyav Pomanov, expressed his wish that, “The Holy Rukhnama and other fatherly books of the Great Leader, which created a revolution in Turkmens’ consciousness, will become eternal guidebooks.”

Berdymukhamedov - largely seen as the front runner in the polls and the country’s former deputy prime minister - has promised certain changes, including unlimited access to the internet, better education and higher pensions.

“Internet should be accessible to every one of our citizens,” Berdymukhamedov told a crowd of 1,000 people in his first campaign speech in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, on Wednesday, adding that the country needed to “completely reconsider the educational programme” so that students could get the opportunity to study abroad.

Work and study abroad are currently banned in Turkmenistan, with the country’s entire education system largely based on Niyazov’s book Rukhnama, a spiritual guidebook he penned for his country’s five million inhabitants.

Whether such changes will be made remains to be seen however, and questions remain as to how free and transparent the presidential elections will actually be. Nurmuhammet Hanamov, an exiled Turkmenistan opposition leader called upon Washington to send a clear message to Ashgabat that free and fair elections were a prerequisite for US support.

Hanamov, who served as Turkmenistan’s ambassador to Turkey and Israel, and was chairman of Turkmenistan’s State Planning Committee, believes the elections slated for 11 February should allow all citizens, including exiled opposition leaders and political prisoners, to participate.

“Turkmenistan is ready for a new beginning, and the West must finally step up to the plate,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Wednesday. “To do otherwise, would waste a historic opportunity and allow yet another popular case of popular discontent with an illegitimate government to become an anti-Western lost cause.”

Meanwhile, Tajikistan’s highest court has sentenced five former pro-government fighters to up to 15 years for the killing of 19 civilians during the former Soviet republic’s five year civil war in the 1990s, an official said on Friday.

The Supreme Court found the five former fighters of the Popular Front movement guilty of killing 19 villagers near the capital, Dushanbe, in 1992 for allegedly supporting the Islamic opposition, the Associated Press quoted the court's spokesman Makhmadali Yusupov as saying.

The court sentenced one of the men to 15 years in jail, three others to 14 years each, and the last one to 13 years, Yusupov said. The men were arrested last year, he said.

Yusupov did not say when the verdict was announced.

The Popular Front fought for the Moscow-backed secular government and brought current Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov to power. The 1992-1997 war claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and ended with a UN-brokered power-sharing agreement.

Most crimes committed during the Tajik civil war have not been investigated due to fears of a return to bloodshed, the report said, adding however, that in recent years Rakhmonov had used alleged wartime crimes to convict potential political challengers both among his former loyalists and opposition leaders.

ds/jm

Theme (s): Other,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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