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Kyrgyzstan Relaxes Registration Rules After Outcry

Kyrgyzstan has made an about-face on a recently introduced law requiring foreign visitors to register within five days of arrival.

The change of tack followed weeks of indignant protest from people working in the tourism industry, who warned that the rule would cause job losses and damage the economy.

On December 19, the government is due to approve a list of 90 countries whose citizens will not require visas or immediate registration, as had been the case prior to the changes of rules in November. The rule applying to citizens of Western European and North American countries, as well as Australia, South Africa and a few South American nations, will be for registration within 30 days.

Citizens of a handful of nations with bilateral agreements with Kyrgyzstan will be allowed to remain in the country without registration for periods of up to 90 days.

The difficulties that foreigners experienced trying to stay within the new rules brought in on November 5 were well covered by some local media, who showed how government registration offices were struggling to cope even with its existing workload, registering Kyrgyz passports and birth certificates.

The state registration service provided foreigners with information about new rules only in Russian, which was also the only language used for the forms, creating a major barrier for many unwitting tourists from the get-go. Visitors also told reporters that border officials failed to inform them of the new rules upon arrival, leaving them even more adrift.

A requirement to register at a specific address would also have proven a considerable headache for the adventure tourist, for whom Kyrgyzstan holds particular appeal, since many of them spend extended periods hiking and trekking in the countryside and remote mountainous locations.

Tourism industry insiders were growing desperate.

Azamat Aitbayev, a local council member in the tourist town of Karakol in Issyk-Kul province, posted a video online expressing the frustration of the local business community. People in the video warned that the tourist sector was being placed under threat by what they described as unreasonable rules.

The new arrangement will be something of a compromise since the period for which many foreigners could stay in the country without registration was 60 days. When the new rules were adopted in November, authorities motivated the policy by citing concerns over security and migration control. Violating the migration law was to be made punishable by a $145 fine.

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81666