Kyrgyz Leader Fires Prime Minister

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fired his prime minister on Wednesday in a move condemned by the opposition as an attempt to tighten his grasp on power ahead of snap parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, an opposition leader, joined Bakiyev's team nine months ago in a move to appease opposition groups.

Atambayev's supporters said the surprise dismissal was part of Bakiyev's maneuvering to keep control ahead of the Dec. 16 elections.

"He was forced to resign. They just made it look like an ordinary affair," said Edil Baisalov, a politician with the pro-Atambayev Social Democratic party.

"We expect him to join the election campaign in a day or two," Baisalov said.

Nurlanbek Shakiyev, a Bakiyev spokesman, said Bakiyev and Atambayev parted on a good note and that the Kyrgyz leader awarded him with a special medal for his hard work.

Shakiyev said Atambayev had offered to resign because he had received an alternative job offer.