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Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Election Protests Grow Stronger

  • Bruce Pannier --> Protests have increased since 27 February Kyrgyzstan’s opposition parties are stepping up their protests over the results of the first round of parliamentary elections on 27 February. Opposition parties are calling for annulment of the results of the ballot and demanding early presidential elections.

Prague, 8 March 2005 (RFE/RL) – More people are reportedly making their way to the protests that have been under way in Kyrgyzstan for several days now.

In the protests, demonstrators have occupied government buildings in two places -- one in the capital of the southern oblast of Jalal-Abad, the other in the southern oblast of Osh. They have also blocked a key road in the east of the country.

One of the biggest demonstration is in Jalal-Abad, where 3,000 protesters have taken to the streets. There the demonstrators accuse local authorities of rigging the first round of the parliamentary election to assure the defeat of a popular opposition candidate.

In recent days, the Jalal-Abad protest has grown to include other demands as well. They include calls for local officials and for President Askar Akaev to leave office.

"Akaev go away! Akaev go away! Out with the governor! Out with the mayor!" protesters chanted.

In Jalal-Abad, protesters have occupied the provincial administration building since 4 March. Jalal-Abad Governor Jusupbek Sharipov said on 5 March that he ordered his staff to evacuate the building for their safety.

"Today, at around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., the protesters entered to the [Jalal-Abad Oblast-administration office] a second time. Then we had to order our staff there to leave the premises in order to avoid any harm to them," Sharipov said.

The Jalal-Abad governor accused the demonstrators of being paid to participate in the protests. He said the organizers were those who lost in the first round of elections, hinting personal motives were the reason for calling for the protests.

Raising the stakes in Jalal-Abad, former Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan election bloc Kurmanbek Bakiev joined the protesters on 6 March. It was Bakiev’s first public appearance at a protest and is significant because he is the leader of the biggest opposition bloc in the country.

Bakiev is running for a seat in parliament in another district and faces a runoff in the second round of parliamentary elections on 13 March. He has stated he will also run for the nation’s top post in presidential elections scheduled for October.

Events in Jalal-Abad have been partly mirrored in the Uzgen district of Osh Oblast. There some 300 protesters were occupying the district administrative building.

In the eastern Naryn Oblast, demonstrators continue to block the Bishkek-Torugart highway that links Kyrgyzstan to China. Protesters have set up yurts, the traditional felt tents of steppe nomads, on the highway, stopping traffic near the village of Karachiy.

The protest in Naryn started before the first round of elections when people feared a rigged poll was coming. They received new momentum last week. The local election commission barred opposition candidate Ishenbai Kadyrbekov from competing in the second round of elections. The reason -- his supporters continued to campaign for the candidate after the campaigning period officially ended.

The prolonged demonstration involved about 1,500 people. It prompted a visit from oblast Governor Shamshybek Medetbekov on 6 March. He met with protesters and promised to ensure that local authorities reviewed Kadyrbekov’s case. But the visit did not succeed in convincing the demonstrators to remove the road block.

The demonstrations in Kyrgyzstan started haphazardly but are gradually becoming more organized. Opposition groups like the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan and the Ata-Jurt movement have sent representatives to areas where protests are under way. The degree of coordination between these areas is still unclear.

But hanging over all these events is the memory of the March 2002 tragedy in the Aksy district of Jalal-Abad Oblast. Thousands of people demonstrated in support of a jailed opposition member of parliament. Police fired on the crowd, killing at least five people.

In the days that followed, Kyrgyzstan first saw the tactic of blocking key roads. This proved a particularly effective means of protest in a country that is more than 90 percent mountainous. These protests eventually brought down the government and gave the people a new sense of strength. They are testing this strength again now.

But this time, protesters have carefully avoiding provoking conflict. The authorities seem equally wary of letting the situation get out of hand.

Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev indicated on 5 March that authorities would not give in to provocations, but also would not forget what is happening now. "In order to avoid any excesses, which would lead to unexpected consequences, we are playing a waiting game," Tanaev said. "Those involved in these processes [protests], of course, will be brought to justice."

Presidential press secretary Abdil Segizbaev said yesterday that there was no need to declare a state of emergency.

Protests between rounds of Kyrgyz parliamentary elections are nothing new. There was great opposition activity between the two rounds of the 2000 elections. Protests continued after the last elections too, but historically they have faded after a couple of weeks.

The task for Kyrgyz authorities now is preventing the public from perceiving the coming second round as strongly biased and inciting them to more massive demonstrations.

(Venera Djumataeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

Analysis: Uneasy Wait For Second Round Of Kyrgyz Elections