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Atambaev Sworn In As Kyrgyz President

  • RFE/RL

Almazbek Atambaev kisses the Kyrgyz flag during his presidential inauguration ceremony in Bishkek on December 1.

Almazbek Atambaev kisses the Kyrgyz flag during his presidential inauguration ceremony in Bishkek on December 1.

Kyrgyzstan has inaugurated Almazbek Atambaev as its new president in the first peaceful transition of power in the country's post-Soviet history, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

In remarks made after his swearing-in ceremony, Atambaev called for ethnic harmony and political unity in the restive Central Asian nation.

The 55-year-old Atambaev, a businessman who has twice served as Kyrgyz prime minister, assumes the presidency after winning nearly 63 percent of the vote in an October election.

Placing his right hand on the Kyrgyz Constitution approved last year after months of bloodshed and turbulence, Atambaev pledged "to protect human and civil rights, to strictly follow the constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, and to protect the national unity, integrity, and security of the state."

Follow RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service's inauguration day coverage in Kyrgyz or Russian

The constitution limits presidents to a single, six-year term.

Atambaev replaces political ally Roza Otunbaeva, who served as Kyrgyzstan's transitional leader following the forced ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev during massive public protests in April 2010.

Relative Calm

Otunbaeva saw the country through a fractious season rocked by deadly ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the country's south in June 2010 and a historic referendum later that month that shifted the country from a presidential to a parliamentary political system. She was not eligible to run for reelection and willingly stepped down.

Almazbek Atambaev is congratulated by outgoing President Roza Otunbaeva at the inauguration on December 1.

Almazbek Atambaev is congratulated by outgoing President Roza Otunbaeva at the inauguration on December 1.

Kyrgyzstan has been relatively calm in recent months, and the vote that brought Atambaev to power was seen to meet most international electoral standards.

But Atambaev comes to office at a time when the country is still marked by deep political, ethnic, and regional divisions.

Speaking after his swearing-in, Atambaev called for the end of the Soviet-era practice of including ethnic affiliation in passports.

He also urged the country's political camps to unite to ensure a more prosperous future for Kyrgyzstan, a small, resource-poor country tucked within a fraught neighborhood that includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan.

Cozy With Russia

Atambaev is seen as likely to bring the country closer to Russia after years of a more Western orientation. After being sworn in, he described Russia as a strategic partner and said he would move to bring his country into an existing customs union with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

"The state's foreign policy must be determined exclusively by the interests of the people of Kyrgyzstan," Atambaev said. "Kyrgyzstan is ready to continue our cooperation with all countries and international organizations."

But he added: "Of course, our strategic partner is Russia. We intend to become a full member of the customs union. I am confident that this move will revive our industry, strengthen our security, open borders with neighboring countries, [and] improve the standard of living of our people. We have a common history and a common future with Russia and our neighboring countries."

No high-profile Russian officials, however, attended the inauguration. The head of President Dmitry Medvedev's administration, Sergei Naryshkin, had been among the listed guests but was not seen in attendance. The highest-ranking Russian official at the swearing-in was the head of that country's constitutional court, Valery Zorkin.

Also notably absent was Nursultan Nazarbaev, the leader of neighboring Kazakhstan. Nazarbaev, who has ruled his oil-rich nation for two decades, is seen as distancing himself from Kyrgyzstan's shft toward the region's only parliamentary democracy.

Atambaev is the fourth person to serve as head of state since Kyrgyzstan left the Soviet Union in 1991. Bakiev's predecessor, Askar Akaev, was forced from power in the pro-democracy Tulip Revolution of 2005.

The revamped constitution that followed Bakiev's exile and the ethnic violence months later established increased powers for parliament and diminished the role of the presidency.

Written by Daisy Sindelar based on RFE/RL and agency reports

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