BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Kyrgyzstan inaugurated a new president Thursday in the first peaceful transition of power in the former Soviet Central Asian nation.
Speaking after his swearing-in, Almazbek Atambayev sounded a note of ethnic harmony and called on all political camps to unite to assure Kyrgyzstan's future prosperity.
Authorities hope the inauguration will usher in an era of stability, which has eluded the country since the April 2010 overthrow of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. A few months after Bakiyev's ouster, ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities wracked the country's south and left hundreds dead.
Kyrgyzstan's fate is of interest to both Russia and the United States. The Central Asian country hosts a U.S. air base crucial to operations in Afghanistan and has been the focus of competition between Washington and Moscow for regional influence. Russia also controls an air base outside the capital.
The first two presidents to lead the country after independence in 1991 were overthrown in public uprisings. Outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva, who wrested power from Bakiyev, earned international plaudits for agreeing to relinquish power.
Atambayev won more than 60 percent of votes in October's presidential election, easily pushing aside nationalist rivals.
He spoke in both Kyrgyz and Russian during an inauguration speech tailored to forging national cohesion.
The southern city of Osh is still reeling from a wave of ethnic clashes in June 2010 that left almost 500 people dead. The Uzbek minority, which suffered the heaviest losses in the violence, has seen its role in the local economy relentlessly stamped out and complains of enduring discrimination.
Speaking in Russian, Atambayev said Kyrgyzstan could only remain whole by fostering unity. He called for the end of Soviet-era practice of including ethnic affiliation in passports.