BISHKEK - Career diplomat Roza Otunbayeva was sworn in as conflict-torn Kyrgyzstan`s president on Saturday, making her the first female leader in the history of ex-Soviet Central Asia.
Standing before a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering onlookers at a packed soviet-era concert hall in the capital Bishkek, Otunbayeva somberly took her oath and promised a new political era for increasingly-unstable Kyrgyzstan.
"As president, I will spare no effort to create a new political culture for the country based on a strict adherence to the rule of law," she told the assembled crowd.
"I must be principled and consistently make demands on all branches of government to ensure it. The new policy can not be built on fantasies and illusions. It must become real and effective."
A former foreign minister and ambassador to the United Kingdom who took power on a wave of bloody street riots in April that ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Otunbayeva takes over at a delicate moment.
Kyrgyzstan has been wracked by violence and political instability since her government, comprised mostly of former officials from the Bakiyev regime, came to power in the April coup.
But the inauguration comes just days after the country overwhelmingly approved a new constitution making Kyrgyzstan the region`s first parliamentary democracy, a move the government hopes will bring a measure of stability.
The new constitution slashes the powers of the president and sets the stage for parliamentary elections that authorities have scheduled for early October to bring in a permanent government.
Otunbayeva will serve as president until after 2011 elections, and will also occupy the post of Prime Minister until the upcoming elections are able to seat a new parliament.
Her government must also work to ease tensions in the south of the country, where deadly clashes between ethnic majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in and around the cities of Osh and Jalalabad may have killed as many as 2,000 people last month.
At least 75,000 fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan but all of these have now returned, leading international aid agencies to warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in dealing with the thousands of families left homeless.
Victims have told AFP the violence was an orchestrated campaign by armed Kyrgyz militias targeting Uzbeks, who make up about 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan`s population of 5.3 million.
Otunbayeva struck a conciliatory tone over the violence, carefully avoiding placing blame on one ethnic group, while promising that the government would do more to ensure the return of services to its citizens in the devastated south.
"Today Kyrgyzstan is going through one of the most dramatic periods in its history. Unfortunately, tragic events took place in the Osh and Jalalabad regions.... Dark forces have spilled blood of many innocent people," she said.
"For my part, I give my word that the state will do everything possible, as soon as possible to overcome the consequences of the tragedy."
Otunbayeva`s first steps are likely to be watched closely by both Russia and the United States, each of which maintains military bases in the strategically-located country.
BDST: 12:36 HRS, July 3, 2010