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Central Asia Report: October 26, 2007

Kyrgyzstan: Slain Journalist Mourned As Investigation Begins

By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Mourners at Saipov's funeral in Osh

October 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A large crowd of men attended Alisher Saipov's funeral today in his native Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Among them were journalists, human rights activists, and many ordinary people who knew him or had been helped by the 26-year-old editor and independent journalist.

Even as the funeral of the well-known journalist was being held, the office of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced that the president will supervise the investigation into the killing of Saipov, who frequently wrote articles critical of the Uzbek government.

Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Nurlan Shakiev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today that Bakiev has taken the case under his personal control. He said the president "considers this matter important" and that "in order to conduct a thorough investigation right on the scene, he sent Omurbek Subanaliev, the head of the Security and Defense Department of the presidential administration, to Osh."

Saipov was shot dead on October 24 at close range while leaving his office in downtown Osh. The only known witness to the shooting, Iqbol Mirsaitov, is a well-known political analyst and expert on religious groups in the Ferghana Valley. He is being questioned by the police.

Sherzod Yusuf, an RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent in Osh, said two bullet cases were found at the scene. He said the first bullet hit Saipov in the leg. "The assailant then approached Alisher and shot him in the head," Yusuf said, citing police sources.

Reported On Uzbek Corruption, Andijon

Among other issues, Saipov covered corruption in the top echelons of Uzbek society and the violation of the rights of Muslims in the Ferghana Valley. He frequently interviewed members of banned religious groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Saipov covered the bloody events in May 2005 in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, which lies just across the border from Osh. He visited a temporary refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan, writing about the plight of hundreds of Uzbeks who fled Andijon after government troops opened fire on peaceful protesters, killing hundreds.

Saipov, who was an ethnic Uzbek, also criticized the growing cooperation between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments and wrote that Uzbek intelligence officers were operating freely in southern Kyrgyzstan.

In August, in his last interview with RFE/RL -- for whom he had once worked -- Saipov voiced concern about the growing threats toward civil society and independent journalists in Kyrgyzstan.

Saipov on October 24, the day he was killed (RFE/RL)

"What is scary about the current events in Kyrgyzstan is that the pressure on religious groups under the pretext of the fight against terrorists could go beyond that narrow group," Saipov said. "Tomorrow, the same may happen to the opposition. [They] or nongovernmental organizations could start facing repression. We are already seeing elements of this: independent journalists are followed by Kyrgyz security agents; NGO representatives have been accused of espionage; and opposition members are accused of cooperation with religious extremists. All of these things concern me very much."

Saipov launched an Uzbek-language newspaper, "Siyosat" (Politics), earlier this year. It immediately became popular among ethnic Uzbeks and others in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Saipov was known to have many visitors to his simple office in downtown Osh, where he worked on "Siyosat" and also contributed reports to the Voice of America (VOA) and some regional news agencies.

Saipov was described by VOA management as "one of the best stringers the [Uzbek] Service ever had." VOA Director Danforth Austin said in a statement that "a professional journalist has paid the ultimate price by doing his job."

Uzbek Connection Suspected

Some observers and friends of Saipov's believe that his killing was politically motivated. Saipov had recently told some of his colleagues that he was being followed by men who he believed were Uzbek security agents.

Saipov had also come under heavy attack in the Uzbek state media. Uzbek regional television recently aired a 30-minute program that targeted Saipov's activities and accused him of destabilizing the situation in Uzbekistan.

Shahida Yakub, an exiled Uzbek opposition activist who met with Saipov shortly before his death, told RFE/RL from Osh that Saipov complained about anonymous threats warning him to cease his journalistic activities.

Muhammad Solih, the self-exiled leader of the Uzbek opposition party Erk, had given several interviews to Saipov. Solih accuses the Uzbek government of being behind Saipov's killing. "For several months he has been threatened by [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's people," Solih said. "I witnessed how Uzbek secret-service agents directly threatened him. Alisher told me about it many times. I have no doubts it is Karimov's doing."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the killing. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said the CPJ is "shocked and saddened by [Saipov's] brutal murder."

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek also released a statement condemning the murder. "The people responsible for this killing must be found and brought to justice," it said.

James K. Glassman, the chairman of the U.S.-based Broadcasting Board of Governors, called on Kyrgyz authorities to conduct a "full and complete investigation of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Saipov, who turned 26 in September, is survived by his wife and a three-month-old daughter.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Babajanov and Kyrgyz Service correspondent Amanbek Japarov contributed to this report from Prague and Bishkek.)

Kazakhstan Blocks Critical Websites, As Opposition Cries 'Censorship'

By Bruce Pannier
October 24, 2007 -- Kazakhstan has blocked four opposition news websites in a move that media freedom advocates have called "political censorship" in a country seeking to portray itself as an emerging democracy.

The website operators, speaking at a news conference today in Almaty, linked the closures to their publication last week of transcripts of wire-tapped telephone conversations alleged to involve senior government officials. The conversations, full of strong language, would appear to implicate officials in wrongdoing and threaten to tarnish Kazakhstan's image ahead of its bid next month to win backing to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Kazakh authorities have cited several possible reasons for blocking the websites, such as a possibly improper registration for one website whose server is located in France or because another site might risk contagion by a computer viral attack from its U.S.-based host.

But Tanya Kaleeva, the head of the media freedom group Adil Soz, called the blocking illegal. "According to the law, of course, everything is clear," she told a news conference today in Almaty. "There has been an illegal blocking [of websites] and those responsible should be punished and the websites unblocked."

Presidential Connection

All the downed sites share one thing in common: they have recently run stories about apparent government attempts to silence a powerful former confidant of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliev. They all also linked the closures to the posting of the phone transcripts, some of which discuss Aliev.

Aliev is sought by Kazakh police on suspicion of involvement in abductions, illegal financial activities, and abuse of office. Charges against Aliev surfaced soon after he was relieved of his most recent post as Kazakh ambassador to Austria and Vienna-based international organizations such as the OSCE.

An Austrian court rejected a Kazakh extradition request, saying Aliev would not receive a fair trial in Kazakhstan. Aliev's former senior standing made him privy to information that some suggest could implicate top officials in serious wrongdoing.

OSCE foreign ministers are due to meet at the end of November in Madrid to decide whether to hand the chairmanship of the world's largest regional security organization to Astana in 2009. Kazakhstan has been favored to take over the OSCE, despite criticism from the United States and the United Kingdom that it lacks the democratic pedigree for such a role.

(RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhanov contributed to this report.)

Kyrgyz Court Convicts Ex-Officials Over Protester Deaths

The three defendents in the Aksy trial: Tokobaev, Kudaibergenov, and Dubanaev

October 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A Kyrgyz court today handed down verdicts in a landmark case into the deadly crackdown on a demonstration in the southern city of Aksy more than five years ago.

The Bishkek Military Court convicted a former prosecutor and local police chief, but acquitted a former Interior Ministry official over the deaths of six protesters in 2002.

The shooting deaths led to looser restrictions on public assembly, but also prompted widespread outrage that ultimately brought down the government of then-Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Several defendants were cleared of any charges relating to the Aksy events in a trial that took place under the administration of the country's first post-Soviet leader, Askar Akaev.

But the case was reopened in March at the request of the victims' relatives, activists, and lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov -- who was the focus of the Aksy demonstrations. Those requesting a new investigation were hopeful that authorities who came to power after the country's 2005 revolution would allow a more thorough inquiry into the use of deadly force against the demonstrators.

Suspended Sentences

The Bishkek Military Court took the rare step of sending judges to the southern Jalal-Abad province to consider whether three former officials were involved in the shooting -- or the shoot-to-kill order.

Today, former prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov and the former provincial police chief, Kubanychbek Tokobaev, were given five-year suspended sentences, so they are unlikely to serve any jail time. A third defendant, former First Deputy Interior Minister Sadyrbek Dubanaev, was acquitted.

Kudaibergenov expressed disbelief after today's sentencing, telling RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the evidence presented in court had established his innocence. Kudaibergenov said he had nothing to do with the order to use deadly force against any of the thousands of people at the ill-fated rally. "I did not issue this order -- my deputy issued it. I had not even seen the order. You heard about it during the trial," he said.

Former Jalal-Abad police chief Tokobaev told RFE/RL that he could not understand why the case was reinvestigated after the earlier acquittal. The judiciary "is just contradicting its previous decisions by issuing this verdict," he said. "The court could not prove the so-called 'new developments' in the case that led it to reverse the [original] acquittal. The investigation did not prove it either."

Officials On Trial

Six people died on March 17 and 18, 2002, when police opened fire on a crowd that was protesting against charges of abuse of office against Beknazarov, who was then the district's representative in parliament.

Sartbai Jaichybekov, who represents the victims of the Aksy tragedy, said today's sentences were too lenient, and claimed it is impossible to bring former or current state officials to justice. "If it were an average citizen in their position like that, they would spend their lives rotting in jail. But those [former officials] are always getting a better deal for themselves. That means there is no way to jail officials," Jaichybekov said.

There were widespread protests after the Aksy killings, and demonstrators blocked a key highway connecting northern and southern Kyrgyzstan and held major rallies in Bishkek and elsewhere.

Then-President Akaev and other Kyrgyz officials warned at the time that the unrest risked throwing the country into "an abyss of chaos."

The investigation and ensuing trial did not result in convictions, and Kyrgyz officials appeared eager to put the matter behind them.

Relatives of the victims and Kyrgyz rights activists have consistently demanded that other high-ranking officials at the time of the Aksy tragedy be questioned -- including former President Akaev, who now lives in exile in Russia, and his successor, current President Bakiev.

(RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Yrysbai Abdyraimov contributed to this report.)

Kyrgyzstan: Does New Constitution Strengthen Democracy -- Or President Bakiev?

By Bruce Pannier

President Kurmanbek Bakiev

October 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Following a national referendum on a new constitution, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev is moving quickly.

Today, just hours after the results of the referendum on October 21 were announced, Bakiev addressed the nation on state television and radio.

"I have made the decision to dissolve parliament," he announced. "I will speak frankly. The outgoing parliament has not had an easy life. You remember that its existence was called into question in the very first days after the elections. Many people called for the dissolution of parliament -- which was elected with so many gross violations -- but we didn't do it, understanding that those deputies were, after all, elected by the people and thousands of voters trusted them."

As Bakiev said, his relationship with parliament was rocky from the start. It was the parliamentary elections of February-March 2005 that sparked the widespread protests that chased former President Askar Akaev from office on March 24, 2005.

The "Tulip" or "People's" revolution was hailed as a victory for democracy and a continuation of the "colored" revolutions that took place in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.

But the deputies who were elected in what many Kyrgyz viewed as rigged elections stayed in office and challenged Bakiev on many issues in a battle between the legislative and executive branches of power.

As they battled, reforms were left for a later date and demonstrations against the government continued.

Bakiev justified his move by saying that parliament had become more concerned with affairs other than those of responsibly governing the country.

"I asked members of the Jogorku Kenesh [parliament] many times to shift their focus from political struggle to establishing a good legislative base for the development of the country," he said. "However, most often, [members of] parliament had different priorities, thinking the battle for expanding their own authority was more important. Interference in the work of other branches of government became widespread and unacceptable."

Legality Questioned

Early results show that some 75 percent of voters approved the new constitution.

According to outgoing parliament speaker Marat Sultanov, Bakiev's dissolution of parliament takes advantage of a closing window of opportunity to do so. Once the new constitution comes into effect, Bakiev will not be able to do what he did today.

Bakiev had threatened to dissolve parliament several times since becoming president. The adoption of a new constitution and election law that abolishes voting in single-mandate districts and changes the number of seats in parliament merely gave Bakiev a legal reason to do what he promised to do for so many months.

But the decision is not sitting well with some lawmakers. "The decree [about dissolution] contradicts the constitution," Azimbek Beknazarov, a veteran opposition deputy, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. "It's illegal. But President [Bakiev's] abuse of his power to dissolve this parliament will get legal backing for sure, as [opposition lawmaker and former speaker of parliament Omurbek] Tekebaev once said. Nevertheless today, since this decree is released already, in this situation, we have no choice but to dissolve."

The new constitution better balances the distribution of power in the government after a series of referendums in the Akaev era consolidated power into the executive branch.

But voters in the referendum also backed changes to the election law that could benefit Bakiev's new party.

Under the new election law all of the 90 deputies in the next parliament will be elected on the basis of party lists. Last week Bakiev helped form a new political party -- the True Path Popular Party -- that he hopes will win an outright majority in the coming elections.

If Bakiev's vision of a parliament packed with deputies from the party he recently helped create comes true, then he may still be able to govern Kyrgyzstan as he wishes, knowing that his political moves will find support in a parliament friendly to the president.

However, that was not how Bakiev portrayed a new parliament today. "I believe that [parliamentary elections] will be completely different [from previously elections] -- absolutely democratic and clean elections -- through which, as is envisioned in the law, the country will receive a parliament comprised of worthy people elected for their ideas and not for their money," he said.

Deja Vu All Over Again?

The adoption of a new constitution does resolve one of Kyrgyzstan's most burning issues over the last two years.

Parliamentary elections may also put an end to fighting between the executive and legislative branches of government. This brings the possibility that stability will be restored in Kyrgyzstan, but also raises questions about what happens next.

Kyrgyzstan has maintained the image as the most democratic of the Central Asian states because of the participation of genuine opposition parties in government, a strong civil society, and the lack of a ruling party.

But the opposition has criticized Bakiev numerous times for simply being a new version of the former authoritarian president. These most recent events in Kyrgyzstan and the elections to come will be seen by some as taking the system of government implemented by former President Akaev to a new level, where presidential decisions are validated instantly by a compliant parliament with the opposition losing much of its voice in the affairs of government.

Parliament met for the last time today. Deputies played the Kyrgyz state hymn before closing their final session.

The prime minister is also expected to announce the resignation of his government soon, but Bakiev is expected to ask them to stay on as a caretaker government until parliamentary elections. In the meantime, Bakiev will govern the country practically alone.

Parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan have traditionally been held in February-March, but there are reports that the next elections could come before the end of this year.

Outgoing speaker Sultanov said the elections must occur within 60 days of the dissolution of parliament, and forecast that they will be held between December 9-16.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev and Venera Djumataeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

Central Asia: Labor Migrants Face Abuse, Xenophobia

By Gulnoza Saidazimova

Cheap, low-skilled labor is in demand in Russia. Migrant workers paving a Moscow street (file)

October 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A 27-year-old Uzbek man is stabbed to death on a Moscow street, and two knives are found at the scene. The motive is unknown, though robbery seems unlikely; the attackers leave behind 10,000 rubles ($400) belonging to the victim.

The October 21 incident is a tragic but commonplace story, one that highlights the risks facing Central Asia's many labor migrants.

Poverty and unemployment have led millions of men and women from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan to seek jobs elsewhere in Central Asia or farther abroad. Sending money back home, the migrants support their families and, it could be argued, their national economies.

An October 18 report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) highlights the dependence of two economies on remittances sent back by migrants in particular: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. IFAD says that money received from labor emigrants and other nationals abroad is equal to roughly one-third of the Tajik and Kyrgyz gross domestic products (GDP) -- 36.7 and 31.4 percent, respectively, in 2006. The IFAD also notes that Uzbeks abroad inject about $2.9 billion into their country's economy -- representing about 17 percent of GDP in 2006.

Migrants Face Abuse, Even Slavery

But the labor emigrants themselves can endure terrible hardship as "guest workers." Hardly a week passes without a story in Russia and Kazakhstan of their mistreatment in those countries, both preferred destinations for Central Asians.

Manzura Karimova, a lawyer for the Moscow-based Migration and Law center, which assists Central Asian refugees and migrant workers, says that her center gets about 200 complaints every month from Uzbeks or Tajiks alleging mistreatment. Karimova says they frequently complain of abuse at the hands of employers, nationalist groups, even the Russian police.

"When hiring migrant laborers, an employer thinks, first of all, about paying them as little as possible," Karimova says. "Migrant laborers are ready to take any job and make very little money, because in comparison with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, wages [in Russia] are much higher."

Some of those who go to Russia and Kazakhstan in search of jobs -- legally and, more frequently, illegally -- end up as slaves. In June, 18 Uzbeks were released from slavery in Russia's Orel Oblast. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) spokeswoman Marina Kostikova said their documents had been taken from them and they were being forced to work "practically 24 hours a day, with no days off." Those who tried to escape were beaten, and the case came to the authorities' attention only after four of them managed to flee.

Earlier this year in Kazakhstan, several businessmen from the city of Aktobe stood trial for abusing 15 Uzbeks. The illegal laborers, including a teenage girl, had been subjected to rape, beatings, and constant humiliation, Kazakhstan's "Megapolis" daily reported. The abusers were sentenced to prison terms and probation.

Increasing Racism, Xenophobia

The Central Asia political refugee program director for the Moscow-based Civic Assistance Committee, Yelena Ryabinina, says that xenophobia remains strong in Russia -- and Central Asians often face harsher discrimination than migrants from countries like Ukraine and Belarus simply because they "do not look Slavic."

A June report by the New York-based NGO Human Rights First notes that Central Asians are frequently the victims of hate crimes in Russia.

The media and local human rights groups have dubbed St. Petersburg a "foreigners' cemetery" in the wake of killings in which the victims were of Central Asian and African descent. There were 120 race-related attacks, and 31 people killed, throughout Russia in the first five months of 2007.

In one of the most prominent hate-crime cases in recent years, a teenager was acquitted last year of killing a 9-year-old Tajik girl, Khursheda Sultonova, in February 2004. The verdict shocked the public and highlighted the plight of immigrants.

ID checks by immigration officers are a part of life (ITAR-TASS)

Ryabinina says an October 16 commentary in a state-owned newspaper by Moscow's powerful mayor, Yury Luzhkov, epitomized the dilemma. She calls Luzhkov's piece "pharisaic," or hypocritically self-righteous. In it, the long-serving mayor voices concern over Russian sovereignty and argues that unchecked migration could threaten national security. He writes that current migration legislation is "intolerably ultraliberal" and needs to be changed.

Ryabinina says the piece is likely to fuel xenophobia. "What fight against outrageous violations of the rights of labor migrants and others can we expect if none other than the mayor of the city of Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation, Yury Mikhaylovich Luzhkov, [publishes] an article titled 'Moscow Is No Back Alley' in 'Rossiiskaya gazeta'? So I can by no means say the Russian government is seriously tackling the use of labor migrants as slaves."

Migrants' Contribution 'Not Appreciated'

The head of the International Bureau for Human Rights and Law Enforcement in the Kazakh commercial capital of Almaty, Viktoria Tyuleneva, says that just like in Russia, migrant laborers in Kazakhstan find themselves between a rock and a hard place. She says Kazakh authorities frequently apply "double standards" -- official rhetoric praises migrants and how they benefit the economy, "but in reality authorities have done nothing to provide for immigrants' rights."

Ryabinina says there is a lack of understanding of the need to attract migrants to support the national economy amid what she describes as a "catastrophic demographic situation" in Russia.

With the Russian and Kazakh economies thriving in recent years, the demand for labor has also increased. Kazakhstan's relatively low population of 15 million and a declining Russian population arguably do not offer a sufficient workforce to support such growth. Kazakhstan's Labor Ministry says the demand for labor is expected to grow in the next few years by 60,000 employees a year.

Meanwhile, as Kazakhs and Russians get richer, the need for cheap, low-skilled labor increases. Transitions Online recently quoted the Russian daily "Novyye izvestia" as saying that there were nearly 103,000 officially registered guest workers and about 1.5 million illegal immigrants from Uzbekistan in Russia last year.

In Kazakhstan, the Labor Ministry's Migration Committee say Kyrgyz "guest workers" represent the largest section of labor immigrants from the CIS. Meanwhile, Uzbeks make up the single largest group of permanent immigrants to Kazakhstan from CIS countries -- composing 57.6 percent of the total. Kazakh authorities also predict an increased flow of immigrants from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan due to the struggling economic situation in those neighboring countries.

Kyrgyz Voters To Decide On New Constitution

By Bruce Pannier

Opposition rally for constitutional reform (file photo)

October 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz voters head to the polls on October 21 to vote in a referendum on a new constitution.

The document aims to balance power more equally, especially between the executive and legislative branches of the government. Many of Kyrgyzstan's opposition groups have been demanding just such a constitution for many months.

Easing Social Tensions

And there is hope the new constitution may ease social tensions more than two years after the country’s so-called Tulip Revolution.

Under the new rules, the number of seats in parliament would increase from the current 75 to 90. Other major changes include the abolition of the death penalty.

Many articles in the new constitution have broad public support. They include an article (Article 18, in Chapter Two, Part One) that says no law can curtail a person's rights and freedoms.

Another article (No 20, in Chapter Two, Part Two) allows Kyrgyz citizens to obtain dual citizenship. Elsewhere (Article 25 in Chapter Two, Part Two), the document says that Kyrgyz citizens may peacefully assemble, rally, picket, or march as long as they advise the authorities in advance. Another article (Article 30) ensures employees' right to strike.

Presidents are limited to serving two full terms (Article 43, Chapter 3, Part One) and must refrain from any activities in a political party or bloc during their term in office (Article 45).

Last November, opposition groups organized the largest rally ever held in the Kyrgyz capital to demand immediate constitutional reforms, something many people had been calling for since mass demonstrations chased former President Askar Akaev from power in March 2005 and installed Kurmanbek Bakiev as leader.

Demonstrators appeared to have gotten what they wanted when President Bakiev signed a hastily prepared version of a new constitution that removed some powers from the presidency and transferred them to the parliament.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Those changes did not last long. On December 30, pro-Bakiev lawmakers pushed through a package of amendments that restored to the executive branch many of the powers lost in the original November document.

Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court ruled recently (September) that both the November and December versions of the constitution were illegal and declared the 2003 version to be the acting constitution of the country. That is the same document that demonstrators wanted changed in November.

That was followed by the decision to hold this week's referendum.

But not everyone in the opposition is satisfied with the upcoming referendum.

Temir Sariev heads the Ak Shumkar (White Falcon) party and was one of the organizers of the November rally in Bishkek.

He says the referendum should have been preceded by a procedural law on plebiscites. “The referendum has been declared for a date that contravenes the law,” he noted. “We told the president this. It should have been conducted only after the law on referendums was signed, because this is a requirement of the constitution -- that there should be a law on referendums.”

The opposition Ak Shumkar party on October 18 called on voters to reject the constitution in the referendum.

But the referendum will go ahead as scheduled and voters are likely to approve the new constitution. More than 70 percent of voters who cast ballots in the country's four previous constitutional referendums opted for change.

As in those ballots, voters must vote either "yes" or "no" on the entire package. There is no option of voting "yes" on some changes and "no" on other changes.

Post-Referendum Scenarios

The referendum should be followed by the resignation of Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev's government, which is expected to remain in a caretaker capacity until early parliamentary elections that could come as soon as December.

If passed, the new constitution mandates that parliamentary elections be held solely on the basis of party lists. That requirement has already met with some resistance from sitting deputies.

Lawmaker Isa Omurkulov insists that parliament cannot be dissolved simply on the basis of the outcome of the referendum.

Omurkulov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he is not alone in arguing that point. “The deputies don't seem to be in the mood to disband themselves,” he said.

“ The reason is that the majority of the deputies are not members of [political] parties. Many of them don't seem to be willing to join the newly formed party (True Path Popular Party). That is why they are in this mood. It will not be possible to dissolve the parliament, but after the referendum the president will declare early parliamentary elections. It looks like [the situation] will be resolved in that way (through a presidential call for early elections)."

Kubanychbek Idinov, an economics professor at the Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the adoption of the new constitution would require new parliamentary elections. "According the new constitution, it is not possible to dissolve the parliament. But at the same time,” he added, “if the constitution is approved in the referendum, the parliament will become illegitimate because the system will be different. That is why the referendum is likely to hasten the political processes."

President Bakiev, who backs the new constitution, helped found a new political party earlier this week.

The creation of the True Path Popular Party (Ak Jol Eldik Partiyasi) is seen by analysts as one of the surest signs of early parliamentary elections after the passing of the referendum. Bakiev said in September that he hoped to help form a party that could win more than half the seats in parliament, thus giving Kyrgyzstan its first ruling party since independence.

While not agreeing with the decision to hold the referendum, Ak Shumkar leader Sariev indicated that his party has accepted the inevitability of the vote and is looking beyond October 21. Sariev said his party is already negotiating with other opposition groups (reportedly the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) and Asaba (Flag) parties) on possibly merging to increase their chances of winning seats in the parliamentary poll. "There are negotiations going on. It should be said, frankly, that the negotiations are not going easily,” he noted. “All the parties of the oppositional viewpoint agree on the main ideology, the main direction of uniting. But on what conditions we unite -- talks are ongoing on this issue."

What appears certain is that the adoption of the constitution will spark a period of intense political activity culminating in early parliamentary elections. That is supported by Sariev's comments on his party's talks with other parties and also information that some members of pro-presidential parties are in negotiations with the new True Path Popular Party.

An announcement on the date of the early parliamentary vote is expected as soon as next week, shortly after the results of the referendum are announced.

(*Background on the Kyrgyz parliament: Between 2000 and 2005, the legislature was bicameral with a 45-seat upper house and a 60-seat lower house. Between 1995 and 2000 it was bicameral with a 35-seat upper house and a 70-seat lower house. And between 1991 and 1995, the parliament was unicameral, with 313 seat.)