Barroso urges Kyrgyzstan to ‘stand firm’ on reforms

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Receiving Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva in Brussels yesterday (1 March), European Commission President José Manuel Barroso encouraged the former Soviet republic, which is trying to build the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia, to stand firm on economic and political reforms.

Barroso said that the EU highly valued Otunbaeva's leadership in advancing an ambitious reform agenda for the stabilisation and democratisation of Kyrgyzstan, in what he described as "a certainly very challenging context" (see 'Background').

Roza Otunbaeva was sworn in as president on 3 July 2010, after acting as interim leader following the 2010 April 'Tulip' Revolution which ousted then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

"This democratisation process is very important for Kyrgyzstan's stability and prosperity, and for the region as a whole. The EU continues to follow events closely, and we remain entirely committed to helping Kyrgyzstan move forward," Barroso said.

Barroso also stressed the importance of inter-ethnic reconciliation in Kyrgyzstan following violent clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks last June. He said the Commission wanted to establish the facts behind the violence and announced that an independent inquiry commission co-funded by the EU was expected to make important recommendations.

Speaking in English, Otunbaeva said the June conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan was "a tragedy for the whole region" and that the authorities were doing their best to foster reconciliation and "heal the wounds".

She called for financial assistance, saying that the EU was the second largest donor to her country and "truly a very trustful partner".

Barroso said that although Kyrgyzstan was not a country covered by the Eastern Partnership, the EU's privileged format for relations with six former Soviet Republics closer to its borders, there was a possibility of granting macro-financial aid to Bishkek.

However, he made this help conditional on the country agreeing an IMF package of comprehensive reforms. The IMF recently said the Kyrgyz government had expressed interest in its financial support under a medium-term programme.

Barroso said Kyrgyzstan could also benefit from EU regional programmes in Central Asia.

But as agencies reported, the IMF warned that inflation, which started to rise in mid-2010 and reached 19.2% by the end of last year, is likely to have an adverse effect on the well-being of the impoverished population.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous, landlocked ex-Soviet republic bordering China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It has 5.4 million inhabitants.

The country hosts both Russian and US military airbases. Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted in February 2009 to approve the closure of the US base after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia. Washington later agreed to pay $180 million to Kyrgyzstan to keep the base open.

A 'Tulip Revolution' last April overthrew Kurmanbek Bakiev, the country’s authoritarian president. Clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June killed at least 400 people. Kyrgyzstan elected a new parliament last October.

Russia considers Kyrgyzstan as part of its sphere of influence. Ties between Bishkek and Moscow have remained strong. Kyrgyzstan's parliament recently voted to name a mountain after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

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