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Kyrgyzstan: Region Looks On Events With Concern

  • Jeremy Bransten --> Some of Kyrgyzstan's neighbors are concerned the violence will spread Kyrgyzstan's neighbors, as well as Russia, are reacting with a mixture of caution and concern to events in the country -- and urging both sides to refrain from confrontation. RFE/RL reports that neither the Kyrgyz government nor opposition activists can claim open support from abroad.

Prague, 23 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution provoked strong reactions and even direct involvement from foreign governments.

But when it comes to Kyrgyzstan, international reaction has been more muted and less partisan.

Georgian President Mikheil Saaksahvili provides a good example. While the Georgian leader enthusiastically backed Ukrainian demonstrators when they took to the streets of Kyiv, this time his approach has been scrupulously even-handed.

Saakashvili has refrained from criticizing the Kyrgyz government. And this week, he sent a letter to President Askar Akaev, offering his services as an intermediary for constructive negotiations with the opposition.

Russia helped facilitate the transition of power during Georgia’s Rose Revolution, but was heavily criticized for its anti-opposition bias in Ukraine. With Kyrgyzstan, it has limited its comments to appeals for calm.

Russia media has reported that Akaev was not granted a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he flew to Moscow for consultations, shortly after the crisis began. This indicates that, at least officially, the Kremlin does not want to be seen playing favorites.

Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the State Duma’s CIS committee, tells RFE/RL that Russia should keep its distance and offer its assistance only if it benefits both sides in the conflict.

"I think Russia should refrain from direct interference, look for ways to assist political negotiations, looks for ways to encourage the use of legal means, to facilitate negotiations between the two sides and if necessary, to act as an intermediary if the opportunity arises," Zatulin said.

Further afield, the United States has also put the emphasis on both sides reaching agreement at the negotiating table.

Several factors could be contributing to this cautious approach. Unlike in Georgia and Ukraine, demonstrators in southern Kyrgzystan have already shown a willingness to use force, and the authorities have also shown they can respond in kind. The fact that there is no unified leadership among the opposition makes the situation potentially more volatile as well.

There is also the fact the current unrest is taking place in a setting that could easily become ethnically charged. Memories of the deadly 1990 Osh riots that pitted Kyrgyz against ethnic Uzbeks are a source of current concern. More than half a million ethnic Uzbeks live in southern Kyrgyzstan.

But Zatulin warns that Russia may be forced to abandon its hands-off approach if riots spread to the capital Bishkek and the north of the country:

"If events develop and spread to the central and northern provinces, to the capital, then I don't exclude the possibility that Russia will not be able to remain on its Mount Olympus and may have to take a more active part in events," Zatulin said.

When it comes to Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors, Uzbekistan showed the quickest response, sealing its border with the country. Reactions at the diplomatic level have been more hesitant, apparently reflecting an overriding desire not to inflame tensions. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan both issued measured official statements late yesterday, while Tajikistan announced its position today. All three countries appealed to both sides to refrain from violence and open a dialogue.

Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov, speaking from Dushanbe, reflected widely shared sentiments in his appeal for calm.

"These events cannot leave us indifferent. Tajikistan, which recently lived through the horrors of a civil war, has always called and continues to call for a peaceful resolution of these problems at the negotiating table, within the law and according to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic. No political aims, no matter how noble their intentions, can justify the use of violence and illegal actions and the radical expression of political ambition. This can have extremely dangerous consequences for peace and stability, not only in brotherly Kyrgyzstan, but in the region as a whole," Sattorov said.

The deputy chairman of Tajikistan’s Social Democratic Party, Shokir Hakimov, tells RFE/RL regional leaders are especially worried the Kyrgyz protests could inspire opposition movements in other parts of Central Asia.

“The difficulties that the democratization process is facing in Kyrgyzstan are the same as in Tajikistan and the whole region, so an impact [from events in Kyrgyzstan] cannot be avoided,” Hakimov said.

Several pro-government deputies in Kazakhstan have already called for a law banning all political demonstrations in the wake of national elections there.

(RFE/RL’s Uzbek and Tajik services contributed to this report.)