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Uzbekistan's Mirziyoev To Make First Presidential Visit To Kyrgyzstan Since 2000

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev (left) meets with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev in the Uzbek city of Samarkand in December 2016.

BISHKEK -- Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev is set to travel to Kyrgyzstan on September 5-6 for the first official visit to the neighboring country by a president of Uzbekistan in 17 years.

A spokeswoman for Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev told reporters in Bishkek on September 4 that Mirziyoev was expected to hold talks with Atambaev and other senior figures including the prime minister and parliament speaker.

Several agreements are expected to be signed including a pact on the demarcation of more than 80 percent of the countries' long and tortuous border, spokeswoman Aizada Subakojoeva said.

About 230 kilometers of the nearly 1,400-kilometer-long border remain in dispute.

Subakojoeva said it will be the first official visit by an Uzbek president since Islam Karimov made the trip in 2000.

Ties have begun to improve 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 an October 15 presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, where Atambaev is barred for running by term limits and has made clear he hopes former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov will be elected.

Mirziyoev, by contrast, was elected to a five-year term in December.

Uzbekistan is the most populous of the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia, with about 30 million people.

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