Author: Olga Dzyubenko | Reuters
Thursday 1 December 2011
Almazbek Atambayev said in his inauguration speech he would also fight corruption and aim to prosecute those responsible for stoking ethnic and regional divisions in the mainly Muslim country that hosts US and Russian military air bases.
“We are prepared to become a full member of the Customs Union,” Atambayev said. “I’m sure such a step will revive our industry, reinforce our security, open the borders with neighboring states and improve our people’s living standards.”
Atambayev won a six-year term as president in an election on Oct. 30 that completed reforms to make Kyrgyzstan the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia.
His inauguration marks the first peaceful transition of the presidency in Kyrgyzstan’s two decades of independence from the Soviet Union, a period during which revolutions — most recently in April 2010 — have toppled two of his three predecessors.
“If there is peace and unity in our country, we will achieve our goals. Three or four years of hard work will change the country for the better,” he said.
Atambayev said accession to the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan would be a cornerstone of his attempts to improve living standards for the country’s 5.5 million people.
“Russia is our strategic partner,” Atambayev said. “We have a shared history and common future with Russia and neighboring countries.”
Accession to the customs union would also ensure Kyrgyzstan continues to benefit from preferential prices for the gasoline and jet fuel it must import from Russia. Officials have warned that a sudden spike in these prices could provoke social unrest.
Per capita GDP in Kyrgyzstan, at $843, is less than a tenth of that in its oil-rich neighbor Kazakhstan. The economy relies heavily on production from a single gold mine and the money sent home by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.
Atambayev said authorities had begun to tackle organized crime in a country that lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Tackling corruption would be the next challenge.
“If we don’t root out every instance of corruption in our society, the future of our country is under threat,” he said.
Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Kyrgyzstan joint 164th of 183 countries in its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Atambayev, whose election victory was contested by the losing candidates, reserved some of his strongest words for those whom he said were fomenting ethnic and regional divisions.
Nearly 500 people were killed in June 2010 during several days of clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the country’s south, and tensions remain high in the region.
“Those who try to divide people by nationality, by region, are the enemies of the country. It’s high time that we stopped reasoning with them ... and start rigidly enforcing the law.”