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Clinton Praises Kyrgyz Progress Toward Democracy

  • RFE/RL

WATCH: During her visit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Kyrgyzstan's democratic institutions and assured Bishkek of the United States' support. (video courtesy of Kyrgyz Public TV and Radio Corporation)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has praised Kyrgyzstan for what she describes as having proven that parliamentary democracy can work in Central Asia.

Clinton made the comment at a joint press conference with President Roza Otunbaeva in Bishkek, during a brief visit to the volatile Central Asian republic.

"There are many who say [that] parliamentary democracy, true parliamentary democracy, cannot work in Central Asia or in many other places in the world," Clinton said. "We reject that and we think Kyrgyzstan has proven that it can."

Clinton insisted that "democracy, human rights, and vibrant civil society help assure stable, prosperous countries."

In turn, Otunbaeva thanked the United States for its support throughout what she said had been a difficult period.

"The past six months have been dramatic, difficult for Kyrgyzstan," the Kyrgyz president said. "We have had referendums and elections almost every month and we have felt the support, understanding, and assistance of the United States."

Ouster, Violence, Vote

Clinton's visit comes after three Kyrgyz political parties agreed to form a coalition government following elections that failed to produce a clear winner.

The October 10 vote was aimed at creating the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia, devolving power to the prime minister from the president.

The elections followed the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev in April amid deadly violence in which dozens of people were killed.

In June, clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of the country left more than 400 people dead.

At the press conference, Clinton expressed hope that the trials of those responsible for the latest violence would "proceed in accordance with the full due process guaranteed under Kyrgyz law."

"This is a country that has been through a great deal of change and upheaval and the violence of this past June was a terrible tragedy," Clinton said. "In fact, the loss of life during this year -- all of the victims and their families have our sympathy and I send condolences to all those who lost loved ones and friends."

Security And Cooperation

Clinton also thanked Kyrgyzstan for continuing to host the U.S. transit center at Bishkek's Manas Airport, which since 2001 has been used to ferry cargo and troops to Afghanistan.

Pressed on a controversy over who supplies fuel to the transit center, Clinton said the United States would help set up a Kyrgyz entity which could bid for lucrative fuel supply contracts.

Otunbaeva stressed the air base's "important contribution" to the fight against terrorism, and said its future would be decided by the incoming government.

"As regards [the extension of the U.S. transit center at] the Manas base until 2014, which you referred to in your question, we did not discuss this issue directly today because that will be the prerogative of the future [Kyrgyz] government," Otunbaeva said.

Despite Kyrgyzstan's moves toward parliamentary democracy, the country still faces a number of challenges -- security in particular.

On November 29, security forces clashed with militants in the volatile southern city of Osh and authorities announced the discovery the previous week of explosives and the arrest of nine people said to have been planning terrorist attacks across the country.

At least three people -- two police officers and a nurse -- were wounded in Bishkek on November 30 in an explosion authorities blamed on militants possibly trained in terrorist camps in countries including Afghanistan.

Otunbaeva expressed concern over her country's security challenges.

"We think the theater of war is now moving toward northern Afghanistan and the Tajik-Afghan border, and then the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, and that is a cause for concern," Otunbaeva said. "Our task is to close that border tightly and that is what we're working on these days."

Regional Visit

Clinton arrived in Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan, where she attended a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Clinton later in the day traveled to Uzbekistan, where she met with President Islam Karimov.

In remarks released by aides, Clinton was quoted as saying that she had urged Karimov "to demonstrate his commitment through a series of steps to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are truly protected."

She said the Uzbek president had recently pledged to expand democratic freedoms and now was the time to "translate words into practice."

Uzbekistan has been accused by human rights group of having intensified a campaign against dissent over the years.

On December 3, Clinton is due to stop in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, where she is scheduled to address the a regional security summit. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki is to be among the speakers on December 4.

written by Antoine Blua based on agency and RFE/RL reporting