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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 198,500 sq km
Population: 5.5 million
Capital City: Bishkek (population:804,000 Economist Intelligence Unit, 2010)
People: 67% Kyrgyz, 14% Uzbek, 11% Russian,1% Ukrainian, Dungan, Uighur
Languages: Kyrgyz and Russian
Religion(s): Muslim/ Russian Orthodox and other Christian minorities
Currency: Som
Major political parties: Ar Namys, Ata Jurt, Ata Meken, Respublika and Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan,
Head of State: President Almazbek Atambaev was inaugurated on 1 December 2011.
Prime Minister: Omurbek Babanov
Foreign Minister: Ruslan Kazakbaev
Membership of international groups/organisations: WTO, OSCE, UN, IMF, EBRD, SCO, CIS. Kyrgyzstan had a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU since July 1999 and has been part of NATO's Partnership for Peace programme since June 1994.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$4.681 billion
Annual GDP Growth: -1.4% (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2010)
Major Industries: Mining, hydropower, agriculture
Major trading partners: Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Uzbekistan
Kyrgyzstan remains one of the poorest countries of the Former Soviet Union, and indeed the world. Despite the backing of major western donors, including the International Monetary Fund, Kyrgyzstan has experienced major difficulties since independence. The Kyrgyz economy was severely affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting loss of its vast market. By 1995, however, production was recovering and exports increasing. The Kyrgyz government engaged with international institutions to generate an economic growth strategy and achieved 8% annual GSP growth in 2007-08. Inter-ethnic violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. Whilst the acute emergency phase is now over, the humanitarian response is ongoing and the situation remains fragile.

Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy accounting for 32% of GDP and more than half of all employment. Among Kyrgyzstan's mineral reserves are substantial deposits of deep-seam coal, gold, tin, uranium and other rare-earth metals. Kyrgyzstan has negligible petroleum and natural gas reserves. The economy is heavily dependent on gold exports, and changes in production levels impact dramatically upon GDP.

Whilst not as resource-rich as its Central Asian neighbours, Kyrgyzstan does have potential for development in the areas of industry, agriculture and tourism. However, this potential is undermined by ongoing problems of corruption and lack of transparency.

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HISTORY

The modern nation of Kyrgyzstan is based on a civilisation of nomadic tribes who moved across the eastern and northern sections of present-day Central Asia. Following a brief period of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution toppled the Russian empire, the territory of present-day Kyrgyzstan was designated a constituent part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1924. It achieved the status of a full republic of the Soviet Union in 1936. Kyrgyzstan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991 under President Askar Akayev. Akayev remained President until the spring 2005 ‘Tulip revolution’. Following July 2005 Presidential elections, Kurmanbek Bakiev became President. He remained in this position until his overthrow in April 2010.

Ethnic Conflict

On 10 June 2010 a fight near the Casino in Osh escalated into widespread violence between the ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations in the Osh and Jalalabad regions of Kyrgyzstan. More than 400 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Property was damaged and many more people were injured with reports of rape and sexual violence. The Kyrgyz government declared a state of emergency. Southern Kyrgyzstan is calmer now, but the situation remains fragile.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

The current government of Kyrgyzstan retains close ties with Russia. Russia has leased an airbase at Kant, near Bishkek, since 2003. China remains a major trading partner of Kyrgyzstan. Relations with Kazakhstan are generally positive, including during Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE Chairmanship, when it responded constructively to the April overthrow of President Bakiev and the June inter-ethnic violence.

Tensions exist between Kyrgyzstan and some of its neighbours, primarily Uzbekistan, in the densely populated and agriculture dependant Ferghana Valley given that, as a hydro-carbon poor/water-rich country, Kyrgyzstan has to balance competing needs to develop its own hydro-electric capacity with the water demands of down-stream states. The Uzbek authorities responded positively during the June 2010 ethnic-violence by providing temporary shelter to more than 110,000 displaced people.

A US-administered transit centre is located at Manas airport in Bishkek, supporting operations in Afghanistan.

RELATIONS With the UK

The UK recognised Kyrgyzstan on 20 January 1992 and diplomatic relations were established on 12 June 1992. The first Kyrgyz Ambassador to the UK arrived in September 1997.

The Foreign Secretary announced on 11 May 2011 that the UK would open a new Embassy in Bishkek. The new Embassy will work closely with the Department of International Development (DFID). DFID’s programme in Central Asia is worth some £14 million ($22 million) per year, which is focussed primarily on the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan.

In March 2010 members of the British All Party Parliamentary Group on Central Asia visited Bishkek to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening co-operation.

DFID use a range of aid instruments including technical assistance projects, programme-based support and a health sector budget support operation that is unique in the region. Key themes of DFID support are governance, service delivery, accountability and HIV and AIDS. In addition, the British Embassy in Astana has contributed almost £1 million since 2003 on support for conflict prevention, criminal justice reform, election monitoring and human rights and democratisation in Kyrgyzstan.

The UK and Kyrgyzstan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Co-operation in January 2006. This provides a framework for more effective support from the Kyrgyz for UK assistance in defence matters. The UK’s defence programme currently includes sending Kyrgyz soldiers on ‘train the trainer’ courses at the British Military Advisory and Training Team in the Czech Republic as well as hosting Security Sector Reform courses in Bishkek.

RECENT VISITS

-- October 2011: Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development visited Kyrgyzstan and met with the then President Roza Otunbayeva and Acting Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov.
-- March 2010: Lord Waverley, Chair of the All-Party Group on Central Asia visited
Bishkek to sign an inter-Parliamentary Memorandum of Understanding.
-- February 2010: Then Foreign Minister Sarbaev attended the London Conference on Afghanistan, meeting then Europe Minister for Europe Chris Bryant in the margins.
-- September 2008: Then Foreign Minister Karabayev met then Minister for Europe Jim Murphy in the margins of the EU-Central Asia Security Conference in Paris.
-- October 2008: HRH The Duke of York visited Bishkek.
-- September 2008: Members of the All-Party Group on Kyrgyzstan visited Bishkek.

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GEOGRAPHY

Kyrgyzstan is land-locked by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Around 75% of the land area is mountainous, while between the snow covered mountain summits lie broad grassy highland valleys and a large salt lake, Issyk Kul, which occupies a highland basin in the north-east.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

Bilateral trade links remain minimal. The British Embassy in Bishkek is able to provide a certain level of support to British companies with an interest in the market in line with the British Government’s prosperity agenda. UKTI does not provide priority support for the market, however, companies should contact the UKTI team based at the British Embassy in Astana to discuss official UKTI trade services.

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POLITICS

In October 2011, Kyrgyzstan held peaceful Presidential elections following a number of years of political turmoil. Of the original 87 Presidential candidates, 16 contested the elections. Three candidates were prominent in the run up to the election. In the first round, ex-Prime Minister, Almazbek Atambaev secured just over 60% of the vote, whilst his main opponents, Kamchybek Tashiev and Adakhan Madumarov gained approximately 15% each.
Despite allegations of some irregularity, Atambaev achieved a sufficient margin to ensure that a second round of voting was not required. He was inaugurated as President on 1 December 2011. Following the collapse of the previous government, President Atambaev offered SDPK party leader, Chynybai Tursunbekov, the opportunity to form a new Government. After a period of extensive negotiations between the main parties/factions, a coalition Government comprising four of the parliamentary factions was formed. The ruling coalition includes SDPK, Respublika, Ata Meken and Ar Namys factions and will have 92 seats of the total of 120 in parliament. The Ata Jurt faction will be the formal party of opposition.

At the end of December 2011, the Kyrgyz Parliament approved the composition of a new Government, headed by Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, a northern businessman/ politician. The important post of Speaker of Parliament was filled by Asylbek Jeenbekov, an MP with southern origins, thus helping the geographic political balance at a senior level within Government.

The Government has announced an ambitious programme of work with a focus on stability, reform and development and particular emphasis on reducing the costs of government; the importance of safety for all citizens of Kyrgyzstan; economic recovery and securing more inward investment for the country.

These elections bring to a close a difficult period for the Kyrgyz Republic. The former President, Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was first elected in July 2005 and then re-confirmed in the position in July 2009, was overthrown following a violent uprising in April 2010. The latter years of his Presidency were characterised by allegations of large scale corruption; reductions in individual freedoms; abuses of civil liberties and human rights and increasing curbs on the media. Dissatisfaction with the Bakiev regime culminated in a series of protests throughout the country in April 2010, leading to brutal suppression of the protestors and the eventual expulsion of the President.

Following the removal of the President, Prime Minister Danyar Usenov, submitted his resignation. Parliament was dissolved and a Provisional Government announced plans for a new Constitution based on a Parliamentary model, followed by Parliamentary elections. A transitional President, Roza Otunbayeva, assumed office in April 2010 and undertook to remain in office only until the next Presidential elections due at the end of 2011.

President Otunbayeva oversaw a referendum held on 27 June 2010 approving a new Constitution which reduced the powers of the Presidential institution and gave greater powers to the Parliament; the first such system in the region. On 10 October 2010, peaceful Parliamentary elections took place in Kyrgyzstan. No party won outright, so a three-party coalition was formed, comprising the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, Respublika and Ata-Meken parties. SDPK leader Almazbek Atambaev was appointed the new Prime Minister. These arrangements remained in place until the dissolution of the coalition in late 2011, bringing the present Government to power.


Human Rights AND DEMOCRACY

Some 470 people lost their lives during June 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan and many thousands were displaced. The report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (KIC) into events in southern Kyrgyzstan led by Dr Kimmo Kiljunen was released on 3 May 2011. This report recommends numerous measures on inclusive state building and reconciliation including the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission. In a 3 May press release, the KIC welcomed the intention of the Government of Kyrgyzstan to establish a special Commission for implementation and monitoring the discharge of recommendations of the KIC.

Since June 2010 events, investigations and trials have been ongoing. However, these have primarily targeted the Uzbek community and have lacked transparency. Allegations of mistreatment and torture have been made. In late 2010, human rights defender Azimjan Askarov was given a life sentence having been convicted of involvement in the killing of a policeman during June events. The trial process was widely felt to have failed to meet international standards, with allegations of beatings and lack of access to a lawyer. At an appeal hearing in late 2011, the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court upheld the verdict on Askarov and seven other defendants. This decision provoked an outcry among local human rights and civil liberties groups. The British Government, together with the EU, US and other international organisations expressed deep concern at the outcome of the appeal.


GOVERNMENT STRUCTURES

Kyrgyzstan is officially a Parliamentary democracy with a President as Head of State. Kyrgyz voters overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution in June 2010 which reduced the powers of the President and transferred greater emphasis to the Parliament.

Presidential elections from now on will see the President elected by popular vote, for a single six year term, with no possibility of re-election. Presidential candidates will have to secure 30,000 signatures, speak Kyrgyz, have been resident in the country for more than 15 years and be over the age of 35.

The President is the Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. He or she appoints the Prime Minister, but other Government Ministers are in turn appointed by the Prime Minister.

The national legislature is called the Jogorku Kenesh, a single chamber Parliament. 120 Deputies (previously 90) are elected to five-year terms on the basis of party lists. No party is permitted to hold more than 65 seats in Parliament.

Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, corruption within the judiciary remains widespread. There are three levels of criminal courts: local courts, which handle petty crimes; regional courts, which consider most other categories of crime, and the Supreme Court, which acts as the highest court of appeal for civil and criminal cases. The Constitutional Court rules on constitutional interpretations and on the validity of the presidential elections. Members of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts are nominated by the President for ten year terms and approved by parliament. The President appoints judges to seven year terms at sub-national levels.

Kyrgyzstan is divided into seven administrative regions or “oblasts” – Jalal-Abad, Osh, Talas, Naryn, Batken, Issyk-Kul and Chui. Each province is headed by a governor (Akim) appointed by the President. The provinces are divided into districts whose administrators are appointed by central government. Rural communities, comprising up to 20 small settlements, are governed by directly elected mayors and councils.


POLITICAL PARTIES

There are many political parties registered in Kyrgyzstan with. 29 parties contesting the October 2010 Parliamentary elections. It is fair to say that some of the parties are associated with a single prominent politician and tend to wax or wane according to the politician’s fortunes. Others attract larger followings. Five parties are currently represented in Parliament as follows: Ata Jurt, Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, Respublika, Ar-Namys and Ata-Meken. SDPK is the party of both the former and current Presidents. Ata Jurt is a nationalist-orientated party attracting significant support amongst ethnic-Kyrgyz in the south of Kyrgyzstan.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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