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Kyrgyz Parliament Approves Isabekov As Prime Minister

Isabekov speaking with lawmakers on January 26 (RFE/RL) January 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Kyrgyz parliament today approved acting Agriculture Minister Azim Isabekov as prime minister by a vote of 57 to 4.

The approval of Isabekov -- President Kurmanbek Bakiev's latest nominee for the post of prime minister -- follows weeks of political dispute in Kyrgyzstan.

Isabekov told lawmakers after the vote that he will try to work closely with them for the good of the country.

MORE: Coverage in Kyrgyz from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Interview with Azim Isabekov, in Kygyz.

"Dear deputies, this is a great credit, an enormous credit of confidence," Isabekov said. "I would like to thank you for the honest discussion today. We will work with you in close contact. We will cooperate for the prosperity of our country. I wish you health and success and I, for my part, will make every effort to justify your confidence. Thanks."

After his confirmation, Isabekov spoke with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service about his priorities.

"Tomorrow I have to propose [to the parliament] a new structure of [the Kyrgyz government]," Isabekov said. "We will consider it. Then there is a huge bloc of draft economic laws. There is a draft law on the government. We need to consider it. I underlined in my speech [at the parliament] earlier that we need to pay attention to the economy and again to the economy. All the first steps will be connected with economic issues."

An Ally Of The President

The confirmation of Isabekov comes after the legislature had twice rejected Bakiev's first choice, Feliks Kulov, who has been acting prime minister since his resignation in December.

Isabekov had been serving with Kulov as Kyrgyzstan's acting minister of agriculture, water, and the reprocessing industry. Born in 1960, he is an economist who is considered a close ally of the president.

In a speech to the parliament just before today's vote, Isabekov said the top priority of his government would be to stabilize Kyrgyzstan's economy and avoid the kind of political infighting that leads to government paralysis.

"I believe that for the effective work of the government it should implement its main function," he said. "And it must stay away from political struggles. Of course, politics also plays a role in government activity. But [the focus] must be economic policy, financial policy, and foreign economic policy."

Avoiding A Showdown

Isabekov needed 38 votes of support from legislators to be confirmed as prime minister. The vote was 57 to four.

Political analysts say they think some lawmakers supported Isabekov because they wanted to avoid a constitutional crisis. Under the Kyrgyz Constitution, the president has the right to dissolve the parliament if lawmakers reject his nominations for prime minister three times.

Although there has been criticism of Isabekov by opposition parties since he was formally nominated on January 26, Isabekov was supported today by some opposition leaders -- including Almaz Atambaev of the Social Democratic Party.

Kulov and his government resigned in December amid a crisis surrounding the adoption of a new constitution.

Opposition lawmakers had accused Bakiev of reneging on a deal to diminish presidential powers that had been struck in the midst of street protests demanding that he implement reforms or resign.

Today's vote is expected to avert the kind of political crisis that led to massive street protests and threats of violence in November.

Geographical Balance

Like Kulov, Isabekov is from the Alamudun district of Kyrgyzstan's northern Chui region. Isabekov had worked closely with the president from 1996 to 2000 when Bakiev was the Chui governor.

With Kyrgyzstan's pronounced regionalism dividing the country's north from its south, analysts say Isabekov's northern roots could be regarded as an asset. Bakiev is a southerner.

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