Kyrgyzstan votes for constitutional referendum, seen boosting president

September 29, 2016 8:27 AM EDT

Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev addresses a news conference in Berlin, April 1, 2015. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

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BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on Thursday to call a referendum on constitutional change that would strengthen the powers of the prime minister, a move opponents say is aimed at getting President Almazbek Atambayev into the post when his term ends.

The Central Asian nation's constitution bars Atambayev from running for a second term when his mandate ends in 2017.

The former Soviet republic's parliament passed a bill setting the referendum for Dec. 4. It will need to be passed in two more readings to become law.

Atambayev's Social Democratic party leads the ruling coalition in parliament.

The proposed constitutional amendments include provisions granting more powers to the cabinet and to leaders of parliamentary factions.

Atambayev, 60, is being treated for suspected heart problems in Russia, but his office said this week he might return to Bishkek by next week.

His illness followed a heated exchange with several former political allies who oppose the constitutional reforms.

Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished, mostly Muslim nation of 6 million, has been volatile in recent years. Violent protests in 2005 and 2010 toppled successive presidents.

(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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