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Police Quash Bishkek Protest, Hint At Tougher Measures

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova --> Police arrest an opposition supporter in downtown Bishkek today 23 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of people gathered in the capital today to support the Kyrgyz opposition, which wants new parliamentary elections and the resignation of President Askar Akaev.

But authorities broke up the protest and detained as many as several dozen people. An RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek said the detainees include members of opposition newspapers, students, NGO leaders, and writers.

There was no immediate word from the government about the detentions.

Kyrgyzstan's newly appointed interior minister, Keneshbek Dushebaev, said this afternoon that the government may use force to restore order in the country.

Dushebaev said the law gives the government "every right to take action, including by using physical force, special means, and firearms."

He said law-abiding protesters would not be harmed. But he warned that opposition forces who have seized government buildings in the south have broken many laws.

Alisher Mamasaliev, leader of the KelKel youth movement, was among those detained in Bishkek today. He spoke to RFE/RL from the Interior Ministry's Bishkek detention facility.

"Today, the KelKel civil group was one of the organizers of peaceful demonstration under the name 'We want to know the truth.' While we were at the meeting, special-forces officers of the Interior Ministry's Bishkek department used physical force and took us by bus to Pervomai ROVD [a district department of the Interior Ministry]. We received no explanation. No one can tell us the reasons for our detention," Mamasaliev said.

Mamasaliev told RFE/RL that 26 people, including seven members of KelKel were detained. Those numbers could not be independently confirmed.

"Seven members of the KelKel civil group were detained. Others are representatives of NGOs and simply students. We wanted to know the truth about events in Jalal-Abad and Osh, because national television and state-owned media give biased information and openly lie," Mamasaliev said.

The clampdown comes shortly after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged a dialogue between the government and the opposition. The OSCE's envoy to Kyrgyzstan, Markus Muller, spoke to Reuters today.

"It is now the absolute priority to try everything to re-establish the order, to re-establish a functioning administration, to re-establish functioning security services in order to prevent an escalation of violence. And here in the center [Bishkek], the most important thing is to call for dialogue," Muller said.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and OSCE Chairman Dimitrij Rupel offered President Akaev their help yesterday to resolve the dispute.

Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topoev traveled to Osh today and met with opposition representatives but apparently made no progress. Demonstrators in Osh -- protesting what they call fraudulent parliamentary polls -- continue to hold key government buildings in Kyrgyzstan.

Aside from Osh and Jalal-Abad, protesters are occupying government buildings in Kadamjai, in the south, and the northern towns of Talas and Kochkor.

A presidential spokesman Abdil Seghizbaev stressed that the prime minister would not be negotiating with what he described as "criminal groups" occupying government facilities.


President Akaev today dismissed two senior officials for failing to rein in protesters.

A presidential spokesman, Abdil Seghizbayev, said that Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and Prosecutor-General Myktybek Abdyldaev left at their own request. But he added that the departures were linked to demonstrations in the south of the country and the officials' "poor work in preventing those events."

Akaev named the security chief of his administration, Murat Sutalinov, to be the new chief prosecutor. Bishkek police chief Keneshbek Dushebaev will head the Interior Ministry.

Zamira Sydykova, editor in chief of the independent "Res Publica" daily, spoke to RFE/RL from Bishkek today. She suggested that the two new appointees might change official Bishkek's position toward the protests.

"As far as Dushebaev's appointment is concerned, I am not sure whether he will have a soft approach, because he is known as a very aggressive politician. As for the [new] prosecutor-general, he is known as a moderate politician who will not make rash decisions on arrests, for example," Sydykova said.

The governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are expressing concern over the political unrest in Kyrgyzstan, and both have closed their borders with the country.

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry yesterday suggested that confrontations in Kyrgyzstan's ethnically mixed south could stoke ethnic tensions. More than half a million ethnic Uzbeks live in southern Kyrgyzstan, where protesters now control the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

Both cities are in the Ferghana Valley, which straddles Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry said that it is closely following the situation in Kyrgyzstan, and said it favors a peaceful settlement to the situation there.


Photo Gallery: How The Protests Unfolded

Analysis: Uneasy Days In Kyrgyzstan

Region Looks On Events With Concern

For more on the Kyrgyz elections, see RFE/RL's dedicated website Kyrgyzstan Votes 2005