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An overwhelming majority of voters in Kyrgyzstan approved a new constitution and voted to keep President Askar Akayev in office until the end of his term in 2005, according to final results from a controversial referendum released on Thursday. Election officials said three out of four voters approved the new constitution which the government says provides for a more equal balance of power between president and parliament. A similar number agreed that Akayev should remain in office until December 2005. On the same day, the country's Central Electoral Commission denied allegations of voting irregularities leveled by the opposition and international democratic institutions. The opposition, which boycotted the referendum, said the poll was not free and fair. The Washington-based National Democratic Institute also alleged widespread irregularities. In Turkmenistan state media announced on Wednesday President Saparmurat Niyazov had created a new commission that will make it harder for former government officials to slip out of the country. The commission will be headed by Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov. Its creation follows an alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov that authorities say was organised by opposition figures, many living outside of the country, in a bid to seize power. Among those already convicted in connection with the 25 Novemeber attempt are two former foreign ministers and other senior officials. The United States on Monday said it would boost spending to Central Asian countries that are now on the front lines of the war on terrorism. The change, made public in the proposed US $28.5 billion fiscal 2004 international affairs budget sent to Congress on Monday, reflects a reprioritisation in the way Washington targets its assistance, officials said. "The request continues the shift begun in fiscal 2003 toward increased funding for the Central Asian republics," the State Department said in its budget request. "These funds would allow us to sustain efforts begun in the wake of [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks] to enhance long-term stability in these key front-line states," it said. Aid to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will increase by between 11 and 55 percent, according to the budget. A Kyrgyz court has handed down a 25-year prison sentence to a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an extremist group with suspected links to the Al-Qaeda network, a spokesman for the state prosecution said on Wednesday. Sheraly Akbotoyev, 40, was found guilty of terrorism, hostage-taking and recruiting militants and sentenced following a two-day trial in the Central Asian republic's Batken region, the official said. The IMU launched cross-border incursions into Batken in 1999 and 2000, taking hostage four Japanese geologists and some US mountain climbers and clashing with Kyrgyz troops. The group's aim was to carve out an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley, which straddles the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday warned ex-Soviet Tajikistan against the threat of inflation but said it was broadly pleased with the pace of economic reform in the impoverished country. "We came to the conclusion that progress in the field of economic reform has been good," Robert Christiansen, deputy head of the IMF's second European Department and head of a visiting IMF mission, told a news conference at the end of a visit. The mountainous country bordering Afghanistan and still reeling from the after-effects of a disastrous 1992-1997 civil war following the break up of the Soviet Union, saw gross domestic product growth of 9.1 percent last year.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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