BISHKEK Members of Kyrgyzstan's divided parliament slaughtered seven rams before their morning session on Thursday, in a sacrifice they hope will banish "evil spirits" disrupting their work.
Kyrgyzstan elected a new legislature in October in a bid to build the first parliamentary democracy in former Soviet Central Asia, a region otherwise run by authoritarian presidents.
But the fragile governing coalition has come under threat after weeks of bitter recriminations and disputes in parliament, leading a senior government member to resign temporarily.
Kyrgyzstan, which lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and hosts both Russian and U.S. military air bases, saw its president toppled by a violent revolt last April. More than 400 people were killed in ethnic riots in June.
"We decided to resort to popular customs, in order for this building not to see bloodshed anymore," member of parliament Myktybek Abdyldayev told Reuters after the rams were sacrificed on a green lawn in front of the government headquarters.
Besides hosting the legislature, the Soviet-era white-marble building in the center of the Kyrgyz capital is the official seat of the president and government. Two presidents fled this building to escape violent popular uprisings in 2005 and 2010.
"We acted like those who light candles or fumigate their homes in order to banish an evil spirit from their conscience," Abdyldayev said.
The ritual of making a sacrifice is widespread in the impoverished, predominantly Muslim nation of 5.4 million. It is practiced mainly during funeral repasts and at solemn ceremonies of reconciliation.
"This is a popular ancient tradition, carried out in order to avoid a repeat of last year's tragic events and for peace and harmony to triumph," said parliamentarian Kurmanbek Osmonov.
But Ondorush Toktonasyrov, one of those who led last year's protests that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, scoffed at the ritual as "a sign of backward mentality."
"Deputies have no idea about parliamentary culture," he told Reuters. "This is an official building where the president works, and the parliament slaughters rams!"
(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Paul Casciato)