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Kyrgyzstan: Positions Harden As Rallies Continue

  • Bruce Pannier --> Demonstrators in Bishkek on April 16 (RFE/RL) April 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of antigovernment protesters gathered today in Kyrgyzstan's capital in the eighth day of demonstrations demanding sweeping political changes.

But the list of demands grew on April 17, when a group of deputies indicated protesters would get nothing if the "disorder" in Bishkek continued.

When the biggest rally began in the capital a week ago, demonstrators just wanted an early presidential election and constitutional reforms. Now protesters, led by the opposition United Front For A Worth Future for Kyrgyzstan and the For Reforms movement, are adding another demand -- the dissolution of parliament followed by early legislative elections.

Opposition deputy Osmon Artykbaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on April 17 that lawmakers bear responsibility for the deteriorating situation.

"Twenty-one lawmakers support this initiative [to dissolve parliament] because we think that parliament, along with [President Kurmanbek] Bakiev, is responsible for the current situation in the country, for the deterioration of the economic and political situation," Artykbaev said.

If those 21 deputies can convince four more of their colleagues in parliament to join them, they could force a debate on the dissolution of parliament.

One Step Forward...

The comments represent a step backward when negotiations seemed be yielding some results.

On April 16, the rally in Bishkek seemed to be close to accomplishing at least one of its goals -- the passage of a greatly amended or new constitution that limits the powers of the presidency. Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev met with opposition and moderate lawmakers late that night, seeking compromise on the question of constitutional reforms. A pro-presidential lawmaker at that meeting who also heads the parliament's constitutional-law committee, Iskhak Masaliev, indicated an agreement on a new draft constitution was close.

"[Atambaev] informed us that the president [Kurmanbek Bakiev] had told him that if we agreed on a joint single draft [of amendments to the constitution] -- even though it would be tough for the president himself, but if [Bakiev] finds it acceptable -- then he would revoke the draft law that he already sent to the parliament, in order to amend it and to send back again [to parliament]," Masaliev said.

...At Least One Step Back

But even as pro-opposition deputies and pro-presidential officials appeared closer to compromise, events on the streets were working against their negotiations.

The detention of several protesters last week brought demonstrators to the Interior Ministry building in Bishkek. April 14 saw an altercation between protesters and a group of young men whom protesters accuse of being government provocateurs. There was also the burning of an automobile that belonged to former national security chief Kalyk Imankulov's son-in-law. Imankulov then joined the opposition.

On April 16, moderate opposition lawmaker Omurbek Babanov went out and called on protesters to resolve their issues through dialogue and quickly became a target for water bottles thrown by more radical demonstrators.

Today in the eastern Naryn Province, an opposition activist who died in official custody was buried. Some opposition supporters and some local officials are saying local police beat the activist to death, although officials say he committed suicide.

Bakiev's Backers Push Back

Pro-presidential members of parliament are now saying they have had enough. On April 17, pro-Bakiev deputy Kamchybek Tashiev said he and a large number of lawmakers simply will not consider the draft constitution that Prime Minister Atambaev and lawmakers discussed.

"We decided -- many deputies, a group of deputies, comprising some 30 deputies -- have made the decision that we will not conduct any constitutional reforms; we will not look at any constitution as long as [opposition protesters] are creating disorder," Tashiev said.

Tashiev emphasized his point by accusing opposition leaders of seeking more than just constitutional reforms.

"We understood that they -- these people who want constitutional reforms -- that their goal is not conducting constitutional reforms," Tashiev charged. "Their goal is to seize power or come to power. So we have come to the decision, at this point, not to look at this initiative about changes and amendments to the constitution or a new constitution."

Constitutional-court approval is needed for any new constitution. And currently the court is three judges short. Parliament is expected to consider the nominations of those judges on April 19.

The government might be sensing -- one week into a Bishkek rally that is regularly attracting fewer than 10,000 people -- that the opposition is unable to mobilize popular support. Organizers of the Bishkek rally predicted that 50,000 people would turn out. Crowds on most days have numbered just several thousand.

But the government's apparent unwillingness to make concessions could play into the opposition's hands if the rallies continue.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, Amirbek Osmonov, and Ainura Asankojoeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)