Shattered Kyrgyzstan votes in referendum
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Kryrgyzstan's interim government is to hold a referendum on a new constitution on Sunday, just weeks after ethnic clashes left hundreds of people dead.Ahead of the vote, authorities in the central Asian state cancelled a curfew in Osh, the southern city that was the epicentre of the violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.
Kyrgyz authorities have lifted a curfew put in place after the violence, so that the vote can go ahead.
The US-based rights group Human Rights Watch has criticised the decision to proceed with the referendum, suggesting it could make the situation “even more volatile”.
Its latest report on this month’s clashes says the attacks on Uzbek neighbourhoods was “systematic.”
However Roza Otunbayeva, the interim leader of the country, saw no reason not to open polls on Sunday.
"The situation in the south of Kyrgyzstan is still tense but there are not the kind of events that make it impossible to stop the curfew for one day," she said when announcing the lifting of the curfew.
"We have the capacity to ensure the security of people in the referendum.”
Correspondent Luke Harding, who has recently returned from Krygyzstan, says the government's decision came as a surprise.
“The decision to press ahead with the referendum is really quite controversial because there as many as 400,000 people displaced – the overwhelming majority of whom are Uzbeks,” he told RFI. “Tens of thousands of Uzbeks are still in camps in neighbouring Uzbekistan following the devastating riots we saw.”
He says the situation in the Osh and Jalalabad is “extremely grave” and that the clashes essentially finished in a “pogrom”.
“Really Osh is just a scene of carnage. Every Uzbek enterprise in the centre of town has been burnt out. There’s 'Death to Uzbeks' pasted all over the walls.
“And obviously there’s been a colossal breakdown in trust between the Uzbek population – who are about 15 per cent in Kyrgyzstan – and this really rather weak interim government which is now I think trying to legitimise itself without actually having an election.”
Harding says the timing of the referendum has been widely questioned.
“The International Crisis Group, western observers and various other people have said that really this is not the moment to be engaging in referendums because if you’re an Uzbek and you’ve lost your home how are you expected to vote?
“I mean these people haven’t just lost their homes. They’ve lost their documents, they’ve lost their passports and they can’t meaningfully take part in this process."
Harding says that he fears for Kyrgyzstan because all the ingredients of a civil war are present.
"There’s a rather feeble government in Bishkek, a long way away from Osh and Jalalabad," he says. “There’s a mood of chauvinism, if you like, among certain nationalist elements in the Kyrgyz military and police and local administrations. And of course there’s a burning desire for revenge among the Uzbeks, many of whom have lost not only their property but family members – wives and husbands and children.”