Volatile Kyrgyzstan inaugurates new president
By Tolkun Namatbayeva (AFP)
BISHKEK — Former prime minister Almazbek Atambayev on Thursday was inaugurated as president of Kyrgyzstan, the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in the unrest-scarred nation's post-Soviet history.
Atambayev vowed to open a "new page" in the history of the volatile Central Asian state that has seen two presidents ousted in bloody revolutions since winning independence in the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
"Today we're opening a new page in the history of Kyrgyzstan. The people expect a fair rule from us. Otherwise they will not forgive," he told top Kyrgyz officials and foreign guests at the national philharmonia building.
"The most important thing today is stability because without stability Kyrgyzstan has no future," he said.
Atambayev secured a decisive election victory in October to take over from outgoing president Roza Otunbayeva, the first time a presidential transfer has been decided through the ballot box and not the streets.
The new president, 55, must heal the wounds of a divided nation that in 2010 endured the revolution that ousted former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and horrific intercommunal violence that killed hundreds of people.
Bakiyev, who now lives in exile in Belarus, had himself taken power in the 2005 so-called Tulip Revolution that ousted post-Soviet president Askar Akayev but his rule became mired in corruption and blatant nepotism.
"Our corrupt state should be left in the past. It's time to stop holding protests and get to work," said Atambayev.
Otunbayeva -- the first female leader in the history of Central Asia -- bowed out after a tumultuous one-and-a-half years in power that saw fears the country could break up turned into hope of a better future.
She took power after the ousting of Bakiyev but her new government failed in June to prevent horrific inter-ethnic clashes in the south that left hundreds dead.
However she then managed to push through a constitutional change creating the only parliamentary democracy in Central Asia and October's presidential elections passed peacefully. "For the first time in our independence we are creating the precedent of a peaceful and constitutional handover of power," she said in an emotional farewell address to the Zhogorku Kenesh parliament the day earlier.
Guests at the inaugural ceremony included Turkey's President Abdullah Gul, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov, and US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake, the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia, an AFP correspondent reported.
Russia, which competes with the United States for influence in Kyrgyzstan, sent a relatively low-level delegation including Valery Zorkin, chairman of the Constitutional Court and head of the Federal Customs Service Andrei Belyaninov.
Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the world to host Russian and US military bases and since the fall of Bakiyev has had sometimes prickly relations with Moscow which was not impressed by its new Western-style political system.
But Atambayev, a close Otunbayeva ally seen as a pro-Western moderate, in his address called Russia "a strategic partner."
International monitors said there were serious shortcomings in the October 30 presidential elections that saw Atambayev easily defeat two nationalists. Opponents have refused to recognise the outcome.
But the mere holding of a peaceful and competitive election is an achievement in a region notorious for strongman leaders who step straight from the Soviet nomenklatura into their posts.
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