Kyrgyz prime minister resigns ahead of election

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BISHKEK, Nov 28 (Reuters) Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev sacked his prime minister today in a move condemned by the opposition as an attempt to tighten his grasp on power ahead of a snap parliamentary election.

Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, an opposition leader, joined Bakiyev's team in March at the height of political turmoil in the Central Asian state as a bridge between the president and the country's fierce opposition movement.

Atambayev's supporters said the surprise sacking was part of Bakiyev's manoeuvring to keep control ahead of the December16 snap parliamentary vote.

''He was forced to resign. They just made it look like an ordinary affair,'' said Edil Baisalov, a politician with the pro-Atambayev Social Democratic party.

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.

''We expect him to join the election campaign in a day or two,'' said Baisalov. Atambayev was not available for comment.

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 centre of the political instability in the country.

Although Kyrgyzstan appeared calm ahead of the election, Russia and Western nations are watching closely for any signs of fresh instability that could spill over into neighbouring nations in the strategically important region.

Nurlanbek Shakiyev, a Bakiyev spokesman, said Bakiyev and Atambayev parted on a good note and that the Kyrgyz leader awarded him with a special medal for his hard work.

Shakiyev added that Atambayev offered to resign himself because he had received an alternative job offer. Twelve parties, including the Social-Democratic party, have registered for the election.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous, landlocked country that borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It hosts a US and a Russian military airbase.

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.

REUTERS PD VC1602

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