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Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Groups Planning More Demonstrations

  • Bruce Pannier --> Feliks Kulov (left) and Kurmanbek Bakiev when they were on the same team (file photo) (AFP) March 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A new opposition group in Kyrgyzstan -- the United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan -- is calling for massive rallies across the country in April culminating in a large demonstration in the capital, Bishkek.

The demand for constitutional reforms is not new, but the United Front is also calling for a fresh presidential election. Another opposition movement with similar goals is also planning to hold protest rallies in the country.

Still Not Satisfied

Is history repeating itself in Kyrgyzstan or are these fresh opposition protests simply the next chapter in a two-year battle the Kyrgyz people have been fighting to change the country's form of government?

The United Front opposes "corrupt clan government, the seizure of property by the ruling family, the establishment of control over profitable sectors of the economy, and pressure on private businesses and the mass media."

The United Front released a statement on March 12 calling for protests against the government and demanding that it make several changes.

Azamat Kalman, a spokesman of this recently established opposition bloc, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service what the group is planning.

"The United Front's headquarters made a statement via mass media outlets," he said. "Our statement [says that] protest rallies will start in the provinces on April 9 and the same rallies will start in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on April 11."

The United Front is led by former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, who created the new opposition group in February, shortly after parliament rejected his candidacy for the post of prime minister twice and President Kurmanbek Bakiev dropped him as a nominee.

Pro-Reform Or Anti-Bakiev?

In a United Front statement released on March 12, the group said it opposes "power usurpation by one person," meaning Bakiev.

Antigovernment protests in Bishkek in November 2006 (RFE/RL)

The statement also noted the United Front's opposition to "corrupt clan government, the seizure of property by the ruling family, the establishment of control over profitable sectors of the economy, and pressure on private businesses and the mass media."

Such charges are similar to complaints made by the opposition to the rule of President Askar Akaev, who was chased out of office in March 2005 in what is known as the Tulip Revolution.
Kulov was quoted the same day as saying the goals of that revolution have not been met and the main reason for that is because of the "lack of desire of the highest officials of the state to conduct constitutional reform."

The United Front is not the only opposition group calling for April demonstrations to demand constitutional reforms. The For Reforms movement organized the largest rally ever in Bishkek in November -- numbering more than 20,000 people at times -- with the goal of forcing the government to accept constitutional reforms.

The rally lasted one week and appeared to work as on November 8 parliament passed a new constitution after two quick readings.

Constitutional Changes Demanded

Bakiev signed it the next day. That constitution reduced the powers of the president but, at the end of last year, pro-presidential legislators passed a package of amendments to the constitution that restored much of the power the president had lost in the previous changes.

Now, For Reforms wants the Kyrgyz people to come out again and force the president to accept the terms of the first changes to the constitution. For Reforms member Omurbek Abdyrahmanov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service what his group is planning for April.

"The people themselves in the provinces are calling for holding meetings on April 5-6," he said.

"We at For Reforms agreed and support this idea. The rallies will start on April 5 or 6 in the provinces and on April 11 there will be a big rally on Alatoo Square in Bishkek. People not only from Bishkek, but from Chu and Jalalabad provinces have promised to come and we hope the number of people will be double the number of the last rally [in November]."

The two opposition groups are officially working independently of one another although there is some crossover between the groups with some well-known figures being members of both organizations. Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev is one example of this.

Bakiev Not Budging

Officially, For Reforms is not demanding that Bakiev leave office early, as the United Front is calling for. But in a statement last week, For Reforms said if the president does not make constitutional and systemic reforms by early April, then protests will start calling for the president to step down.

Justice Minister Marat Kayipov said on March 12 that calls for Bakiev's early departure or early presidential elections are "groundless."

A protest in Bishkek in March 2005 (epa)

"In such a case, [the holding of early presidential elections would cause] Kyrgyzstan to once and for all lose face as a state and as a people before the international community," he said. "Why? Because after constitutional reforms the powers of the president were not broadened but, on the contrary, were reduced. We can raise the question of an early presidential election only in such a case where the powers of the president become more than at the moment when [the last] presidential elections were held. That has not happened."

Kayipov said the opposition should make its demands based on the current laws and the constitution.

Protests To Peak In April

Of course, the opposition could say it is changes to the current laws and constitution that are at the core of their demands.

Both opposition groups are vowing prolonged demonstrations in April until their demands are met, but are also promising orderly, nonviolent political rallies.

Kyrgyz authorities will get a chance for a preview of April's planned rallies later this week. In the Aksy district in southern Kyrgyzstan, a ceremony is planned on March 17 to mark the five-year anniversary of the killing of at least five people during demonstrations.

The incident in March 2002 led to widespread protests that eventually caused the dismissal of the country's prime minister, who at that time was Bakiev. Anti-Bakiev slogans are almost certain to be a feature of the rally, an event that the Kyrgyz president's office says Bakiev will also attend.

(Kubatbek Otorbaev and Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

Understanding Kyrgyzstan

Workers preparing for celebrations of the constitutional compromise in Bishkek on November 9 (RFE/RL)

A STABLE FOUNDATION? On November 9, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a briefing featuring RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Director Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev and RFE/RL analyst Daniel Kimmage.


Listen to the complete discussion (about 80 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media


Parliament Adopts Constitution Curtailing Presidential Powers

Crisis Deepens After President Proposes Constitutional Changes

Bishkek Prepares For Large Opposition Rally

Economic Reforms Seem Stalled

Photo Gallery Of November 9 Protests