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Kyrgyz President Calls His Uzbek Counterpart's Visit To Bishkek 'Historic Event'

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (right) with his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoev in Bishkek on September 5.

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev has called the visit of his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoev, to Bishkek a "historic event for both nations."

Mirziyoev arrived in the Kyrgyz capital on a two-day official visit on September 5.

During talks, Atambaev thanked Mirziyoev for accepting his invitation to visit Kyrgyzstan.

"Both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek people have been waiting for this visit for more than 20 years. [This visit] will solve many issues as it opens a new era, a new epoch in the relations between our two nations," Atambaev said.

Mirziyoev started his speech in Kyrgyz and called Kyrgyzstan his country's "strategic partner," adding that Uzbekistan's "priority now is improving ties with its neighbors."

"We have to turn our [Uzbek-Kyrgyz] border into a border of friendship," Mirziyoev said.

A pact on the demarcation of more than 80 percent of the countries' border is among several documents scheduled to be signed during Mirziyoev's visit, Atambaev’s office said earlier.

Some 230 kilometers of the nearly 1,400-kilometer-long Uzbek-Kyrgyz border are still disputed between the two countries.

Mirziyoev's visit is the first official visit by an Uzbek president since late Uzbek President Islam Karimov's trip in 2000.

Ties have been improving since Mirziyoev came to power in September 2016 following the death of Karimov, who had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since the Soviet era.

During Karimov's rule, Uzbekistan was at odds with its neighbors over issues ranging from border disputes and ethnic stand-offs to economic disagreements linked to water distribution and energy transportation across the region.

The visit comes ahead of a presidential election in Kyrgyzstan on October 15, where Atambaev is barred from running for a second term, and has made clear he hopes his protege, former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov will be elected.

Mirziyoev won a five-year presidential term in December.

With more than 30 million inhabitants, Uzbekistan is the most populous of the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan has a population of about 6 million, including a large ethnic Uzbek minority concentrated in southern regions near the border.