Russia hosts new Kyrgyzstan leader on his 1st foreign trip

International

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands with Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Mihail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted the newly elected president of Kyrgyzstan, voicing hope for political stability in the Central Asian nation that recently saw a violent change of government for the third time in 15 years.

Sadyr Zhaparov won 79% in Kyrgyzstan’s Jan. 10 presidential vote, a victory that came just over three months after he was freed from jail by crowds of protesters.

Speaking at the start of their Kremlin talks, Putin voiced hope that the constitutional changes spearheaded by Zhaparov will help “normalize the domestic political situation.”

The Russian leader also promised that Russia would help Kyrgyzstan counter the coronavirus outbreak. Kyrgyz authorities have approved the Russian-designed Sputnik V vaccine and the country’s immunization effort is to start shortly.

Kyrgyzstan, a member of Russia-dominated economic and security alliances, hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s economic support. It formerly was the site of a U.S. air base that served as a key transport hub for the war in Afghanistan.

Zhaparov, 52, assured Putin that membership in the Russia-led alliances remains the “political and economic priority” for his country.

Zhaparov was serving an 11 1/2-year sentence on charges of abducting a regional governor amid a dispute over a gold mine when he was freed by demonstrators who contested the results of October’s parliamentary election.

Immediately after his release, Zhaparov mobilized stone-hurling supporters to evict President Sooronbai Jeenbekov from office. He then mounted a quick election campaign, far outspending his rivals.

The unrest marked the third time in 15 years that a leader of the nation of 6.5 million on the border with China was forced out by a popular uprising. Like the previous uprisings that toppled presidents in 2005 and 2010, the latest turmoil was fueled by clan rivalries that drive the country’s politics.

In a referendum held in parallel with the January presidential vote, 81% of voters in Kyrgyzstan supported strengthening presidential powers. The relevant constitutional changes are to be approved by another plebiscite.

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