- - Sunday, June 27, 2010

OSH, Kyrgyzstan | Barely two weeks after ethnic purges left many minority Uzbek communities in smoldering ruin, about two-thirds of Kyrgyzstan’s voters went to the polls Sunday to peacefully and overwhelmingly approve a new constitution they hoped would bring stability to the Central Asian nation.

However, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned that the vote could let extremists take power in the former Soviet republic. His remarks contrasted with the strong support Kyrgyzstan’s new government received from Moscow after a revolt in April.

The interim government had pressed on with the vote even though many of the 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks forced to flee have yet to return to their homes and neighborhoods.

The result gave legitimacy to the provisional government backed by most Uzbeks, though some of those displaced by violence were unable to vote Sunday. The interim government came to power after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April after deadly street protests.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva said she now would be inaugurated as a caretaker president and form her government. Its members will form a lawmaking assembly that will pass the necessary legislation until parliamentary elections in October.

“It will not be an interim but a legal and legitimate government,” Ms. Otunbayeva said. “We are leaving the word interim behind.”

With more than 70 percent of all precincts counted, the Central Election Commission said more than 90 percent of those who cast ballots voted for the new constitution and just about 8 percent voted against it. Some 2.7 million people were eligible to vote, and turnout was nearly 70 percent, it said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had 25 observers monitoring the vote but none in Osh or Jalal-Abad — the cities were the violence was centered — because it still considered them too dangerous.

Activists and journalists in the south, however, saw no signs of election day violence. Dinara Oshurakhunova, who heads a democracy rights group monitoring Sunday’s vote, said despite the tensions in Osh, different ethnic groups voted in mixed neighborhoods.

“Most people here don’t even understand what they are voting for, they don’t understand what the issue is,” she said. “For them, taking part is simply an opportunity to stabilize the situation.”

Speaking after a Group of 20 summit in Toronto, Mr. Medvedev said Kyrgyzstan was a strategic partner of Russia and could make its own political choices. But he warned that the authorities in Bishkek were unable to ensure order in the country, which hosts U.S. and Russian military bases.

“Taking into account the fact that even now the authorities are unable to impose order, that the legitimacy of the authorities is low and its support creates a host of questions,” he said.

“Will this not lead to a chain of eternal problems — to reshuffles in parliament, to the rise to power of this or that political group, to authority being passed constantly from one hand to another, and, finally, will this not help those with extremist views to power?” he said. “This concerns me.”

From combined dispatches

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