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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bakiyev Signs Constitution

ReutersThe Kyrgyz president signing the new constitution Thursday in Bishkek.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Thursday signed an amended constitution limiting the powers of his office in a bid to defuse the deepest political crisis this country has experienced since the March 2005 uprising that carried him to power.

Bakiyev, in the presence of the parliamentary speaker, other officials and journalists, looked carefully at the document, appeared to sigh, then signed it.

"The constitution is the result of an agreement reached between the various political powers in the country," Bakiyev said. "It is a new step to perfect the foundations of the state. We have no losers, but an aspiration for consensus. The new constitution is the result of good sense and wisdom."

Bakiyev's representatives submitted the document after a week of protests and tensions that stoked concerns that the country would descend into chaos less than two years after an uprising drove its longtime leader Askar Akayev from power.

The parliament on Wednesday approved the constitution in two quick votes just before midnight. Sixty-five lawmakers approved it in the final ballot, far more than the required two-thirds of the 75-seat parliament.

The constitution, worked out in talks between backers and opponents of Bakiyev, will give the parliament more clout.

Kyrgyzstan, a country of about 5 million, is near China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The U.S. military has maintained an air base in Kyrgyzstan since 2001 to back operations in Afghanistan. Russia also has a base in the country.

Some 10,000 opposition supporters held a victory rally in the square outside government headquarters. "We chose a democratic route. We became the first in Central Asia to choose freedom, the most democratic system," said the top opposition leader, Omurbek Tekebayev. Another leader, Omurbek Babanov, said the time had come to stop rallying and start building the economy.

"I call on Kyrgyz youth abroad to return to a peaceful, democratic and civilized country," he told the crowd, referring to the approximately 300,000 of Kyrgyzstan's 5 million population who have left the country.

But some protesters remained dissatisfied with the compromise. "Bakiyev should have gathered his courage and stepped down," said Talgat Kuradeyev, 20, an activist. "But he is a coward. Bakiyev must go."

Many in the crowd chanted: "Bakiyev must go! Bakiyev must go!"

Bakiyev came to power following opposition protests, but the nation has remained tense amid persistent power struggles. Bakiyev's rule has been marred by high-profile killings, a weak economy, battles for control of lucrative businesses, and mounting anger over his reluctance to relinquish presidential authority.