Despite Violence, Kyrgyzstan Approves Constitution

In Kyrgyzstan, the interim government says voters have approved a new constitution that will allow the Central Asian nation to form a legitimate government after months of political turmoil and ethnic violence. The vote comes just weeks after deadly ethnic purges killed as many as 2,000 people and forced 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks from their homes.

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The Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan still has wounds from a burst of ethnic violence earlier this month. But in a display of optimism yesterday, several million Kyrgy citizens cast ballots to approve a new constitution. There were those who argued the country couldnt possibly hold a vote in the midst of a refugee crisis.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks, who are a minority, fled the fighting and remain homeless, but even some of them found a way to vote. NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE: A hospital bed isn't usually where you go to cover an election. But there was something symbolic about Aterbic Kutchkono's(ph) determination to cast a ballot.

Mr. ATERBIC KUTCHKNO: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: The 34-year-old father of three was shot in the stomach during the ethnic clashes on June 12th and he's been in the hospital since. Yesterday, a nurse brought a ballot to his bedside. One simple question: Does he support the new constitution? He marked yes, folded the paper, and dropped it in the box beside his IV drip.

Mr. KUTCHKNO: (Through translator): This vote was very important to all of us, to the country. I trust our new government. If they keep their word, then we'll have a parliamentary republic we can support. But if it goes the old way, people will again have to rise.

GREENE: The old way in Kyrgyzstan means having a leader who's seen as authoritarian and corrupt. That was the case with the last president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and people rose up in April to drive him from power in a bloody coup. This began a turbulent period and many suspect Bakiyev supporters stoked the ethnic violence a few weeks ago. Despite raw emotions, the fragile interim government here pushed ahead with yesterday's vote. That included getting ballots to patients still recovering in the torn up city of Osh.

Mr. MAHMOUD YALDOSHOF: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Forty-two victims of the violence died here in this hospital, but doctors say nearly all of the several hundred remaining patients cast ballots, including a 31-year-old baker named Mahmoud Yaldoshof(ph). The Uzbek man was shot by a sniper during the ethnic violence, yet he insisted, in general, ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz get along, including right here in this hospital room, which he was sharing with Kyrgyz patients.

Mr. YALDOSHOF: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: If the new constitution can give people confidence, he said, maybe there'll be less suspicion between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, relations are going to improve, Yaldoshof said. He insisted politics, not ethnic hatred, caused the recent violence. He added, the ones to blame will be found.

Yaldoshof joined more than two-thirds of the country's 2.7 million eligible voters who cast ballots yesterday. Earlier results issued by the government suggest 90 percent favored the new constitution. The document weakens the power of the president and shifts authority to parliament and to a prime minster.

Kyrgyzstan becomes Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy and elections are scheduled for this fall. For now, the constitution allows acting President Roza Otunbayeva to form a legislative assembly and get to work.

Ms. DELIA MOMAJANAVA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: A visit to the Cheriumesky(ph) neighborhood in Osh showed just how much work remains. Voters filed into a school to vote, but many homes in this predominantly Uzbek neighborhood are burnt to the ground. Election officials created temporary documents for Uzbeks who lost their passports in their torched homes. While many refugees have returned, this neighborhood was quiet. This woman, Delia Momajanava, has returned to Cheriumesky and she's staying with friends.

Ms. MOMAJANAVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: I voted for this constitution, she said. I voted for peace. Then she looked out to the street.

Ms. MOMAJANAVA: (Through translator) Our house burnt down, so I don't know what will happen to us. How can one not be afraid? They burnt everything and there's nobody here.

GREENE: Another voter, 39-year-old Gunora Albutnerakmanava(ph), said we want stability and we want to live the way we lived before.

There was something encouraging about this Kyrgyz woman, being out to vote in this predominately Uzbek neighborhood. But then she walked quickly towards a van with a group of men.

Ms. GUNORA ALBUTNERAKMANAVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: They drove me here with bodyguards, she said. I was afraid to come.

David Greene, NPR News, Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

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