Kyrgyzstan braces for power cuts, slower growth

BISHKEK, July 10 (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s government cut its 2008 economic growth forcast on Thursday due to anticipated energy shortages this year, warning that the impoverished nation may have to live through another winter of power cuts.

Political stability in the volatile ex-Soviet nation depends on its economic fundamentals, especially after a wave of anti-government protests that rocked the strategically placed nation until about a year ago.

Kyrgyzstan relies on hydroelectric power plants for its electricity needs but it discharged too much water from its reservoirs last winter due to extreme cold and will be unable to replenish them fully, officials said.

“GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth will be around 7 percent, 6 percent at the lowest,” Economic Development Minister Akylbek Japarov told reporters.

The government has previosly forecast a growth of 8.0-8.2 percent this year, same as in 2007. Japarov also said inflation could exceed the planned 15 percent.

Consumer prices rose 15.2 percent in the first half of 2008, led by foodstuffs and fuel. Bread price hikes have historically triggered public discontent throughout the former Soviet Union.

The country will have only 10.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of water in its key Toktogul reservoir by October when the cold season begins, Japarov said.

It needs 13-15 bcm to live through the winter without power cuts. Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous nation of five million where winter temperatures regularly drop to minus 20 celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).

“We will have to recommend the Energy Ministry to carry out rotating power cuts,” Japarov said.

The Energy Ministry said in a separate statement it would cut off power for heating boilers throughout the country and urged citizens to switch to coal and heating oil. (Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gerrard Raven)