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Kygyzstan: Youth Leader Speaks About Opposition Organization's Intentions

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova --> KelKel (New Epoch) is a youth organization in Kyrgyzstan that was established before the February 27 parliamentary elections. Many observers, particularly those who know what role Otpor, Kmara, and Pora played in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, respectively, say KelKel will become a driving force behind political changes in this Central Asian country, where the opposition is weak and fragmented but is the most active compared to other countries in the region. Alisher Mamasaliyev, the main leader of KelKel, spoke about the organization, its political positions, and its collaboration with Ukrainian and other Central Asian youth organizations in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL.

Bishkek, 28 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- KelKel organized its first public event on 11 January after Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) opposition party, was not allowed to register as a candidate for parliament. A group of young people from Bishkek went to a protest meeting organized in Otunbayeva's defense and distributed lemons to all attendees. They simply said that the lemons would help keep protesters healthy during a flu epidemic.

"For the first time for 15 years of independence," said thirty-year-old KelKel leader Alisher Mamasaliyev, "the Kyrgyz youth made an initiative and created a precedent of attempt to change the situation."

Mamasaliyev told RFE/RL that the young people who make up the largest part of the Kyrgyz population should be more active in the political life of the country, and he said that is one of KelKel's goals. A KelKel leaflet reads: "We don't fight for power, we fight for our rights."
"For the first time for 15 years of independence, the Kyrgyz youth made an initiative and created a precedent of attempt to change the situation."

Despite the declaration, the political position of KelKel is very clear: they want President Askar Akayev to step down at the end of his term in October. Mamasaliyev:

"Yes, Akayev must step down," Mamasaliyev said. "But we want it to happen peacefully in accordance with the law. This is our right under the constitution. Yes, we stand for a change of power in the White House (eds: the name of the Kyrgyz president's office)."

Under the current constitution, Akayev cannot run for another term as president. But opposition members fear he may decide to stay in power and try to change the constitution in order to allow him to run once again.

The Kyrgyz authorities have impeded KelKel's work on several occasions, said Mamasaliyev: "We had an office, but it was taken away. At the moment, we don't think about developing further, but rather about surviving."

The government attempted to stop KelKel's activity by creating its own organization, also named KelKel. Unlike Mamasaliyev's KelKel, the other organization was registered by officials very quickly. The government version of KelKel does have a different slogan: "They threaten us with lemons. We simply squeeze them."

Many observers believe KelKel can play the same role as Otpor, Kmara, and Pora did in the "velvet revolutions" in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine, respectively.

Mamasaliyev said KelKel does have contacts with Ukraine's Pora organization. "Yes, I would like to say that we contacted Pora," he said. "Our friends from Ukraine came [to Kyrgyzstan], did some training for us. They gave us recommendations on how to correctly establish an organization, so that one part of the organization is in charge of the website, the other one is in charge of security; they told us how to deal with the media, which international donors to contact. Of course, we would like to become a serious organization like Otpor, Kmara, or Ukrainian Pora. But at the moment we have a priority of tasks regarding the presidential elections."

KelKel plans to organize summer courses for young people with the purpose of raising the political awareness of a young electorate and to train election observers ahead of October's presidential ballot.

KelKel also collaborates with a youth organization in Kazakhstan. However, cooperation with organizations in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan is not possible at the moment. "At present, we collaborate with the Kazakh youth organization Kakhar, which has a very developed system because they get assistance from Kazakh businesspeople," Mamasaliyev said. "As for cooperation with Tashkent, to be honest, we didn't even think about it. We know what the situation in Tashkent is like; we listened to the recent interview of [Uzbek] President Islam Karimov. I don't think it is realistic to speak of a possible partnership with the [Uzbek] youth organization. Neither do we have contacts with Tajiks."

Mamasaliyev said that despite all the difficulties, KelKel continues to operate. Some 300 young people have joined the movement since the first meeting in January. It opened a new branch in Aksy a few days ahead of the elections.