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Kyrgyzstan scraps bill to bring NGOs under tighter control

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan’s parliament on Thursday voted against a Russian-style draft law aimed at tightening state control over nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) financed from abroad, in a move that could improve soured ties with the West.

The legislature adopted the bill, requiring foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they encroached into politics, in its first reading last June, drawing strong criticism from human rights groups.

It resembled a law passed in Russia in 2012 that Western governments and human rights bodies described as an attempt to muzzle dissent.

Yielding to public protests, the parliament in Bishkek first watered down the bill, removing the “foreign agent” wording, and on Thursday scrapped it altogether in the third and final reading.

“We are an ‘island of democracy’ in Central Asia, thanks to their (the NGOs’) contribution,” deputy Osmonbek Artykbayev told the chamber.

Sixty-five deputies voted against the bill in the 120-seat parliament, with 46 supporting it.

Kyrgyzstan had moved closer into Russia’s orbit under President Akmazbek Atambayev and last year terminated a 1993 agreement on cooperation with the United States, over Washington’s granting of a human rights award to an imprisoned Kyrgyz activist.

But in December, Atambayev said Moscow would be unable to finance, as previously agreed, two Kyrgyz hydroelectric power projects with a combined value of more than $3 billion (£2 billion).

He also criticised Russia at a military parade in Moscow last week commemorating the anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Days earlier, a group of young Russians had attacked two Kyrgyz migrant labourers in the Russian capital.

“During the war, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Russia found shelter and food in Kyrgyz homes,” he said. “I would like to remind of this the citizens of brotherly Russia, where, unfortunately, modern fascist skinheads raise their head.”

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Andrew Roche