Many Kyrgyz voters turned out for a national referendum on a new Constitution despite a recent flare-up of ethnic violence in the south.

Two hours before the polling stations closed on Sunday more than 53 per cent of the 2.3 million eligible voters cast their ballots, according to the Central Election Commission.

The voting was not marred by any major incident, even as authorities lifted for a day a state of emergency imposed on the violence-hit southern provinces, where at least 2,000 people had died and hundreds of thousands had been displaced in four days of anti-Uzbek rioting two weeks ago.

A minimum turnout threshold was scrapped to ensure the referendum takes place.

Kyrgyzstan's interim leader Roza Otunbaeva, who voted in Osh, a southern city torched in the bloody violence, said the referendum was the first step towards giving legitimacy to her government, which came to power in the aftermath of a popular uprising that overthrew Kurmanbek Bakiev from the presidency in April.

If approved, the Constitution would transform Kyrgyzstan from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, with main powers shifted from a nationally elected President to a Prime Minister chosen by Parliament. This would make Kyrgyzstan the first parliamentary democracy in former Soviet Central Asia. Parliamentary elections are planned in Kyrgyzstan in October.

“You should take part in the referendum to get rid of the Bakiyev constitution, which threatens the return of the mafia-clan pyramid of power,” said Ms. Otunbayeva.

In their joint statement last week in Washington the Presidents of Russia and the United States, Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, backed Kyrgyzstan's efforts to “restore democracy and stability” and promised help in rebuilding its shattered economy.

Referendum results are expected on June 28.


Otunbayeva sworn in Kyrgyz presidentJuly 3, 2010

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