BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Switzerland says it is seeking to expand its influence in Central Asia with the upgrading of a cooperation office in Kyrgyzstan into a full-fledged embassy.
Swiss Council of States President Hans Altherr -- speaker of Switzerland's upper house of Parliament -- and foreign development officials met in Bishkek Monday with Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev to mark the inauguration of the new status between the two countries.
At the meeting, Altherr said Switzerland will increase financial assistance to Kyrgyzstan 50 percent in the 2014-16 period, the 24.kg News Agency reported.
Switzerland has sent about $200 million in aid to Kyrgyzstan from 1995-2011.
"Switzerland is that Kyrgyzstan is on the right track in building a democratic state," Altherr said. "I am very proud to say that today I have the honor to open the Swiss Embassy in Kyrgyzstan.
"Thus, we want to contribute to the development of the Kyrgyz Republic and the deepening of (our) economic cooperation."
The move comes as Switzerland is stepping up its foreign aid to Kyrgyzstan -- especially in efforts to speed reforms of its oppressive business regulation system, which Swiss officials say is hurting the country's investment climate and hampering economic growth.
Bern says it is also looking to strengthen its diplomatic network in Central Asia, whose political and economic significance to the country has grown in the last two decades, especially in terms of development efforts of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank there.
"This step represents further acknowledgement by Switzerland of the increasing political and economic importance it attaches to Central Asia, which has been one of the priority regions for Swiss development cooperation since the 1990s," embassy officials said.
Altherr and Kurt Kunz, assistant director general of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, introduced Laurent Guye as Switzerland's new ambassador to Kyrgyzstan -- until this week he had been head of the agency's office in Bishkek.
The aid agency, SDC, since 1994 has been in charge of Swiss donations to fund the former Soviet state's "transition" from a command to a market economy.
From now on, the embassy will not only be responsible for matters related to the "transition assistance," but will represent the political and economic interests of Switzerland in Kyrgyzstan, managing bilateral relations between the two countries, an official Swiss statement said.
Otorbaev, meanwhile, said the Kyrgyz government "attaches great importance to harmonization with development partners" and is working to "(increase) the investment attractiveness of Kyrgyzstan (as) a democratic state" and to develop a market economy.
Reforms of local governments are also being undertaken, the deputy prime minister said, adding, "In these matters, we would benefit from the experience of Switzerland, which is similar to Kyrgyzstan."
Swiss-Kyrgyz cooperation is coming not only in private sector reforms but also in health care, public administration and infrastructure, Otorbaev noted.
He expressed "profound gratitude" to the Swiss Parliament, especially "taking into account (the) hard economic situation in Europe and despite reduction of budgets in the European countries, you have opened (an) embassy in our country."