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New Kyrgyz premier promises stability, economic growth

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Dec. 23, 2011, 6:44 p.m. | Russia and former Soviet Union — by Reuters

Kyrgyzstan's parliament elected Omurbek Babanov as its new prime minister on Friday, awarding strong powers to the incoming premier to make good on promises to alleviate poverty and fight endemic crime.

Reuters

BISHKEK - Kyrgyzstan's parliament elected Omurbek Babanov as its new prime minister on Friday, awarding strong powers to the incoming premier to make good on promises to alleviate poverty and fight endemic crime in the volatile Central Asian republic. A total of 113 parliamentarians voted for Babanov. Only two voted against.

"At the first stage, we need to achieve stability, eradicate corruption and fight crime," Babanov, previously deputy prime minister, told parliament before the vote. "The nation wants to have more jobs, peace and stability."

Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim nation of 5.5 million which borders China, lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and hosts both U.S. and Russian military air bases.

The culturally and economically divided mountainous nation, one of the poorest of the 15 ex-Soviet states, has seen two presidents deposed by violent revolts since 2005 and was rocked by ethnic riots in June 2010, when some 500 people were killed.

Babanov's election as prime minister concludes the process of building a parliamentary democracy in Kyrgyzstan launched after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in an April 2010 revolt.

The new Kyrgyz model of government, backed by the United States but watched with scepticism by former imperial master Russia, makes parliament the main decision-making body and in theory gives the prime minister more power than the president.

Almazbek Atambayev, the former prime minister, was elected president on Oct. 30 and sworn in on Dec. 1. Parliament elected Asilbek Zheenbekov as speaker this week, defusing tension after his predecessor resigned after being accused of corruption. ID:nL6E7NL2GB]

A new ruling coalition unites four of the legislature's five factions and numbers 91 deputies of a total 120 in parliament. The previous three-party coalition collapsed on Dec. 2.

CRIME AND POVERTY

The central government still has tenuous control of the south, where Kyrgyzstan shares the multi-ethnic Ferghana valley with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where radical Islam is rising.

The ancient city of Osh, the unofficial capital of southern Kyrgyzstan, was the epicentre of the June 2010 ethnic riots.

"The basis of everything is stability," said Babanov.

"The main task for our government is to build an economy that will allow us to be able to feed ourselves," Babanov said. "Our budget now hinges on foreign borrowing, but foreign loans should be channelled to develop the economy, not to support the budget."

Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt of around $2.8 billion stands at more than half of its annual gross domestic product of around $5 billion. Its per capita GDP of about $900 is less than a 10th of that in next-door oil-rich Kazakhstan.

Weak economic governance and a high level of perceived corruption are seen as key hurdles to Kyrgyzstan's development.

The largely agricultural economy relies heavily on production from the Kumtor gold mine, the flagship asset of Canadian miner Centerra Gold, and remittances from hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.
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