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Kyrgyz Prime Minister Stepping Down


Joomart Otorbaev did not give a reason for his resignation.
Joomart Otorbaev did not give a reason for his resignation.

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev has announced he is stepping down.

Otorbaev, who has been in office since April last year, made the announcement in parliament on April 23.

Otorbaev said there must be no monopoly of power in a real democracy but did not immediately give a reason for his resignation.

Otorbaev's resignation comes amid renewed controversy over the operations of the country's largest gold mine, Kumtor, operated by the Kumtor Gold Company.

Otorbaev told reporters after announcing his resignation on April 23 that the direction of his government was "correct, but there is a need to move on," adding that Kumtor is the main unresolved issue.

The Kyrgyz government currently owns around one-third of Kumtor Gold Company through state-owned Kyrgyzaltyn Company, while Canada's Centerra Gold owns the rest.

A 2003 deal gave the Kyrgyz government a 17 percent stake in the operations, with Centerra controlling the rest.

The agreement was renegotiated in 2009, giving the Kyrgyz government nearly 33 percent of the shares.

Opposition parties and local residents in recent years have called for the mine's nationalization, leading to talks on establishing a new joint venture with a 50-50 split in ownership.

Otorbaev, who took office one year ago, had staunchly resisted calls to nationalize Kumtor and made it his priority to reach a deal with Centerra.

But talks hit a new hurdle this month after Otorbaev said that instead of forming the long-discussed new joint venture to run Kumtor, the government wants to increase its representation on Centerra's board of directors.

He said at the time the joint venture was no longer in Kyrgyzstan's national interests because of Centerra's new, lower estimate of Kumtor's reserves.

In February, the company estimated proven and probable reserves at 6.1 million ounces of contained gold as of the end of 2014, compared to 8.5 million a year earlier.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev must sign a decree accepting the resignation of Otorbaev and his cabinet.

The three-party majority coalition will then have 15 days to nominate a new prime minister to the legislature for approval.

With reporting by Reuters

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