Kyrgyz leader resigns ahead of elections

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev resigned yesterday just weeks before a snap parliamentary election in the volatile Central Asian country.
Atambayev, a moderate opposition leader, joined President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's government in March at the height of political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan as a bridge between the president and the country's fierce opposition movement.
It was unclear whether his resignation was linked to the December 16 election in the former Soviet republic, which hosts U.S. and Russian air bases.
"The president accepted Atambayev's resignation today," said Nurlanbek Shakiyev, a Bakiyev spokesman. He said Bakiyev and Atambayev parted on a good note.
Atambayev, 51, spearheaded a wave of mass anti-Bakiyev protests in 2006 calling on the Kyrgyz leader to resign. He later switched sides to help Bakiyev's government but remained loyal to the opposition movement, his supporters say.
The last parliamentary election, in early 2005, triggered violent protests that toppled Kyrgyzstan's long-serving leader Askar Akayev and brought Bakiyev and his team to power.
Ever since, a parliament packed with Akayev-era deputies has been at the center of the political instability in the country.
Watching closely
Although Kyrgyzstan appeared calm ahead of the December 16 election, Russia and Western nations are watching closely for any signs of fresh instability that could spill over into neighboring nations in the strategically important region.
Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous, landlocked country that borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Twelve parties, including the pro-Atambayev Social-Democratic party, have registered for the December 16 election. Atambayev could not be reached for comment on whether he planned to focus more on his party's activities.
Kyrgyzstan's government technically resigned last month in line with a new constitution adopted in an October 21 referendum. Parliament is due to propose a new government line-up or confirm the current one after the election.
Shakiyev said First Vice Premier Iskenderbek Aidaraliyev would step in as acting prime minister until then.