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Kyrgyzstan inaugurates new president Sooronbai Jeenbekov

© AFP/File | A woman walks next to an election campaign poster of Sooronbai Jeenbekov in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK (KYRGYZSTAN) (AFP) - 

Kyrgyzstan's new president Sooronbai Jeenbekov was inaugurated Friday in a ceremony marking the first peaceful transfer of power between elected leaders in the Central Asian country.

Jeenbekov, 59, a close ally of outgoing Almazbek Atambayev, swore to protect the "unity of the country" as he accepted the national flag and donned a breastplate signifying the presidency.

The boom of artillery fire marking the power transfer was audible across Bishkek, the capital of the majority-Muslim country of six million.

The former Soviet country saw its first two presidents overthrown in revolts in 2005 and 2010, with ethnic violence leaving hundreds dead after the second revolt.

Under Atambayev, who was constitutionally restricted to a single six-year-term in office, the country enjoyed a period of relative stability, albeit without real reforms.

Jeenbekov scored 54 percent of the October 15 ballot viewed as Kyrgyzstan's most competitive election since independence, with oligarch opponent Omurbek Babanov taking more than a third of votes cast.

But monitors said the vote was marred by evidence of voter intimidation tactics and other forms of administrative leverage that appeared to benefit Jeenbekov's campaign.

Kyrgyz authorities earlier this month pressed ahead with a criminal case against Babanov over remarks he made in a neighbourhood inhabited by an ethnic minority during a bitter electoral campaign.

The 47-year-old former oil trader, who, like Jeenbekov, served as a prime minister during Atambayev's tenure, resigned his position as head of the parliament's second largest party earlier this month.

Atambayev steered a strongly pro-Russian foreign policy course after his own election in 2011 that analysts say is unlikely to change under Jeenbekov.

In 2014, the country cancelled the lease on a US based used for operations in Afghanistan.

The country however hosts a Russian military base and has leaned heavily on China for loans and investments.

Kyrgyzstan is alone in hosting competitive votes in Central Asia, a region defined by corruption and an authoritarian political culture.

© 2017 AFP