Kyrgyz protest over proposed constitution empowering president

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Hundreds took to the streets in Kyrgyzstan Sunday to oppose a proposed constitution that critics say would empower the presidency and damage freedom of speech.

Constitutional amendments currently undergoing public discussion would return cabinet-forming powers to the president and allow incumbent leaders to run for office.

Initiators say the draft constitution should be put to a referendum on January 10, the same day that the ex-Soviet country is holding presidential elections.

In October, Sooronbay Jeenbekov became the third Kyrgyz leader since independence to resign over political unrest -- this time over a disputed parliamentary vote.

Disarray in the Central Asian country has caused concern for key allies Russia and China.

Several hundred protesters who gathered in the centre of the capital Bishkek held up signs decrying a "Khanstitution" -- a reference to the absolutist rulers who dominated Central Asia for centuries.

Some chanted against Sadyr Japarov, who this month resigned as acting president and prime minister to compete in a presidential election set for January 10, which he is tipped to win.

Japarov has spoken in favour of the constitution and is widely believed to be its driving force. 

He called naysayers "shameless fools" in a statement relayed via media on Friday, and promised to "unmask the true opponent" of the changes next week. - AFP