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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyz Leader Disbands Parliament

ReutersDeputies of the Kyrgyz parliament listening to the national anthem before Bakiyev dissolved the chamber Monday.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev signed a decree dissolving the parliament on Monday, moving to strengthen his control a day after voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional changes in a referendum that his critics called a power grab.

The decree, widely expected after Sunday's vote, was the latest step in political struggles that have persisted in the country since the ousting of its longtime leader in 2005 by opposition forces.

The disputes have obstructed efforts to address poverty and social problems in the strategically important country, which hosts a U.S. air base as well as a growing Russian military base.

In a televised address, Bakiyev accused the parliament of overstepping its authority. "Throughout my term, I have tried to shift the restless energy of this parliament into a creative channel. However, the parliament has often considered the fight to widen its own powers more important," Bakiyev said.

The parliament passed two sets of constitutional changes late last year that curtailed presidential powers, but lawmakers reversed them the following month, after Bakiyev threatened to dissolve the legislature, and returned to him the authority to form the Cabinet.

Bakiyev signed the parliament dissolution decree after voters approved constitutional changes he called for in Sunday's referendum. According to the Central Election Commission, 74.5 percent of voters supported the changes, which call for the parliament to be elected by party lists.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed concern Monday about reports of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities during the referendum and urged the government to take steps to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

Critics have said the changes, which eliminate the direct election of individual candidates, would hurt the country's smaller parties and independent politicians. Bakiyev's opponents claimed that the vote was an attempt by the president to sideline the opposition and help his political allies seize dominance in the parliament.

It came after the creation of a pro-government party, Ak Zhol, or Bright Path, last month.

A date is to be set for elections after the new constitution comes into force.

Bakiyev's decree could spark turmoil, but there were no immediate signs that it would bring opposition protesters into the streets. The last major anti-government protest in the capital, Bishkek, was forcibly dispersed in April, dealing a blow to the opposition.

The president's office on Monday called on law enforcement agencies to provide for public calm, but Bakiyev said in his address that no emergency measures would be put in place.

Kyrgyzstan has been troubled by political tension since longtime President Askar Akayev was forced out by protests over claims of electoral fraud in March 2005. Akayev fled to Russia and Bakiyev came to power.