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Kyrgyzstan's ruling coalition collapses

Associated Press - December 2, 2011

Leila Saralayeva, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan's fragile ruling coalition collapsed Friday, one day after the new president took office a development certain to spur frenetic political bargaining in the Central Asian nation where both the US and Russia have key interests.

Social Democratic Party faction leader Chynybay Tursunbekov said his party decided to pull out of the coalition formed in the months after last October's election because of disagreements with its partners on judicial, political and economic reforms.

"The right thing to do is for the president of Kyrgyzstan to give Social Democratic Party faction a mandate to form a new coalition," Tursunbekov said.

Almazbek Atambayev's inauguration as president Thursday will help to ensure political continuity despite the legislative discord. He is expected to charge parliament with forming a new coalition in the coming days.

Kyrgyzstan's fate is of interest to both Russia and the United States.

The former Soviet nation on China's mountainous western border hosts a US air base crucial to operations in nearby Afghanistan and has been the focus of competition between Washington and Moscow for regional influence. Russia also controls an air base outside the capital.

Failure to reach swift agreement on a new coalition partnership could hamper desperately needed economic reform. Although relatively rich in gold reserves, Kyrgyzstan struggles with chronic hardship exacerbated by rampant corruption and crumbling infrastructure.

Atambayev has promised to combat graft, although many believe any such efforts will be hindered by political infighting based on clan and regional loyalties.

Atambayev is likely to favor inclusion of the Social Democratic Party, of which he used to be the leader, in the new coalition.

Tursunbekov said the new coalition could include as many as four parties, although it was unclear to which parties he was referring.

The fall of the coalition comprised of an unlikely alliance between the Social Democratic Party, the nationalist Ata-Zhurt party and pro-business Respublika had long been expected amid rumored divisions within the five parties in parliament. The other parties with seats in the legislature are the law-and-order and Russia-friendly Ar-Namys party and left-leaning Ata-Meken.

Kyrgyzstan adopted a new Constitution last year that boosted the influence of the parliament and watered down the executive power of the president.

Atambayev hinted ahead of the election he won convincingly in October that the Constitution may be amended yet again, leading some to speculate he may favor a return to a stronger presidency.

[Associated Press writer Peter Leonard contributed to this report from Almaty, Kazakhstan.]

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