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FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Kyrgyzstan

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 1 Oct 2010 10:46 GMT
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
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By Dmitry Solovyov

ALMATY, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan plans an election on Oct. 10 that would create the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia in a year that has seen the president overthrown and the worst ethnic violence in the country&${esc.hash}39;s modern history.

Acting president Roza Otunbayeva, a former ambassador to London and Washington, must push through electoral reforms while tensions simmer in the ethnically divided south, scene of savage clashes in June in which hundreds of people were killed.

Parts of the country&${esc.hash}39;s second city, Osh, are still in ruins. With the threat of violence high, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) plans to send a 52-member, unarmed police force after the election. [ID:nLDE6811NC]

Otunbayeva says she could cancel the poll and declare a state of emergency should violence erupt again. [ID:nLDE68617L]

The situation worries the United States and Soviet-era master Russia, both of which operate military air bases in Kyrgyzstan.

Below is a list of key political risks in Kyrgyzstan.

BLOODSHED AND CHAOS

The violence began on June 10, triggered by attacks by unidentified individuals in balaclavas, and lasted several days.

Both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, who have a roughly equal share of the population in the south, said they suffered sustained attacks. Nearly 400 people were killed, and some unofficial estimates place the toll much higher.

Many victims were shot, but others, including women and children, were burned inside their homes. The United Nations estimated that 400,000 people, mainly Uzbeks, fled at the height of the violence, though most have since returned.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said some Kyrgyz government troops took part in mob attacks against Uzbeks.

On Sept. 15, a court sentenced five people to life in jail for murder and other charges and handed out long prison terms to three others in the first trial after the unrest.

Human Rights Watch and Freedom House said the investigation had been faulty, marred by violence and threats against the defence. Those sentenced -- all ethnic Uzbeks -- included a prominent human rights defender. The vast majority of those facing trials are also ethnic Uzbeks. [ID:nLDE68F0LN]

Speaking at the United Nations, Uzbek President Islam Karimov called for an independent international probe into the June violence, saying it could pave the way to reconciliation. [ID:nN20268638]

Kyrgyzstan had been volatile since a popular revolt on April 7, when president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown and replaced by an interim government.

Two months of tension followed, marked by sporadic attempts by supporters of Bakiyev to seize government buildings in the south. The interim government has blamed Bakiyev&${esc.hash}39;s supporters for fomenting the violence, a charge that Bakiyev has denied.

Bakiyev is now exiled in Belarus, whose president, Alexander Lukashenko, has publicly snubbed requests for his extradition.

What to watch:

-- Revenge attacks are possible. There has been little signs of reconciliation between the ethnic groups and raids by Kyrgyz forces are likely to breed more resentment among Uzbeks.

-- OSCE monitors, originally scheduled to start arriving in August, will be deployed in the south after the election. Their deployment is designed to soothe tensions, but some residents say it could embolden ethnic Uzbeks to pursue autonomy.

-- National Security Service chief Keneshbek Dushebayev has said international terrorist groups played a role in the violence. Central Asia&${esc.hash}39;s proximity to Afghanistan has long bred fear Islamist militants may try to gain a foothold.

-- Kyrgyzstan&${esc.hash}39;s neighbour Tajikistan, the poorest ex-Soviet state in the region, adds to regional tension. Battles have raged between government forces and Islamist rebels and analysts say the violence could spill into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

-- The vast majority of those facing trials after June&${esc.hash}39;s bloodshed are ethnic Uzbeks. Human rights bodies say biased trials may fuel further tension in the south.

POLITICAL REFORM

More than 90 percent of voters in a June 27 referendum supported Otunbayeva&${esc.hash}39;s plans for parliamentary democracy, where the prime minister will have more power than the president.

Under the new charter, Otunbayeva will be acting president until Dec. 31, 2011. Parliamentary elections will take place 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 Bishkek&${esc.hash}39;s plans to build a parliamentary republic as it believes this could lead to factionalism or even a power grab by Islamist extremists.

President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sept. 10 that attempts such as that by Kyrgyzstan&${esc.hash}39;s leaders to create a parliamentary democracy would end in tears, and said he was afraid that in the end it would be a "catastrophe" for Kyrgyzstan. [ID:nLDE689199]

Analysts say Russia would also find it more difficult to exert its influence on a democratic Kyrgyzstan than to deal with a powerful president similar to those elsewhere in Central Asia. What to watch:

-- The ability of the interim government to organise free and fair elections. Diplomats say the new leaders will face an uphill battle fostering democracy while infighting could stifle their ability to make quick decisions.

The OSCE&${esc.hash}39;s election monitoring arm said the referendum was fair, but improvements in the electoral process -- better safeguards against multiple voting, for example -- are needed.

-- Will ethnic Uzbeks gain representation in government? The constitution forbids any political party created on ethnic or religious grounds, but the large Uzbek population in the south will need a presence in a representative government.

SUPERPOWER POLITICS

The United States and Russia are at loggerheads over Kyrgyzstan, although their leaders do not publicly say so.

Washington&${esc.hash}39;s priority is the Manas transit base, an important centre for supplying the war in Afghanistan. Russia, which has long dreamed of evicting the United States from Central Asia, also leases a local base, in Kant.

Wrangling began under Bakiyev, whose decision in 2009 to extend the Manas lease -- months after announcing the U.S. military would have to leave -- infuriated the Kremlin. Some analysts say this was a factor in his overthrow.

Bishkek is keen for Russia to merge the four military facilities it rents in various parts of Kyrgyzstan into a single base, and is eager to boost the rent that Moscow must pay.

Moscow and Washington offered quick support for Otunbayeva&${esc.hash}39;s interim government immediately after it came to power.

U.S. President Barack Obama met Otunbayeva in New York and, while praising her government for removing restrictions on independent media and drafting a new constitution, urged her to take more steps to prevent a renewal of ethnic violence.

What to watch:

-- Will the lease on Manas be renewed? A decision will probably not be taken until after the general election.

-- Will Russia use Kyrgyzstan&${esc.hash}39;s volatility as an excuse to beef up its military presence? It has shown little desire to act unilaterally, although it has said its troops will remain in the country at least until the elections.

-- How will China, which shares a border with Kyrgyzstan, react? China covets its iron ore, gold and coal mines and has strong interests in textiles and agriculture.

ECONOMY AND INVESTMENT

Kyrgyzstan secured pledges worth ${esc.dollar}1.1 billion on July 27 from several international donors, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Commission.

The money will be used to rebuild the south and reignite the economy, which the government expects to shrink by 5 percent this year compared with a growth forecast of 5.5 percent prior to the turmoil that began with the president&${esc.hash}39;s overthrow.

Kyrgyzstan&${esc.hash}39;s external debt amounts to 61 percent of gross domestic product and the government says its budget deficit this year is equivalent to 13.5 percent of GDP.

The economy is dependent on remittances from citizens working abroad, mostly in Russia, which comprise as much as 40 percent of GDP.

Mining is the other main earner: the Kumtor gold mine, operated by Canada&${esc.hash}39;s Centerra Gold <CG.TO>, alone accounts for more than 7 percent of GDP and supplied a quarter of industrial output and a third of all exports last year.

What to watch:

-- Will the country&${esc.hash}39;s future leadership be immune to the nepotism and cronyism which sparked the popular indignation that toppled the previous president?

For political risks to watch in other countries, please click on [ID:nEMEARISK]

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