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Kyrgyzstan: Rumors About President’s Health Prompt Official Response

  • Bruce Pannier --> President Kurmanbek Bakiev (archive) (AFP) People in Kyrgyzstan are wondering how their president is doing. Kurmanbek Bakiev, abroad for more than two weeks, even missed two of his country's most important holidays over the weekend.

Bakiev went to Germany at the end of February for medical treatment, although the nature of that treatment has never been clear. When Bakiev failed to return home as planned on March 16, rumors started flying that he was gravely ill -- or even dying if not already dead.

The speculation prompted the presidential press service to issue a statement on March 24, saying that Bakiev was in "excellent health" and that rumors to the contrary are groundless. Medet Sadyrkov, head of the presidential administration, tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the statement was aimed at putting an end to questions in the media about Bakiev's health. He says he spoke personally with the president and that Bakiev would be back in Bishkek on March 28.

Speaking on People's Revolution Day, a national holiday on March 24, parliament speaker Adakhan Madumarov told journalists he was in constant contact and had telephone conferences with Bakiev "every second day."

Madumarov had also sought to reassure the public on March 19, when he said Bakiev was "healthy and ready to get into the boxing ring."

But particularly with so many public concerns over the legacy of the so-called Tulip Revolution after three years, some found it strange that Bakiev was in Kyrgyzstan for neither Norouz on March 21 nor for People's Revolution Day, the celebration marking the anniversary of events that ousted Bakiev's predecessor, Askar Akaev.

Former Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev, who recently returned from Germany, tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he visited Bakiev at a hospital near Frankfurt and said the president is doing well. "While I was in Germany for my [unofficial] business, I decided to meet with the president," Atambaev says. "I was also worried in the wake of such rumors" about Bakiev's health.

But Atambaev says the president's health condition is "good," and described "some problems with the joints in one leg" that been corrected. "They treated the leg, and now he is in a so-called rehabilitation period," Atambaev says. "He is swimming in a pool and using a trainer. We had a good [Norouz] party and had a talk."

But aside from such general statements, neither Atambaev nor any other Kyrgyz official has said exactly what kind of condition Bakiev has been suffering from.

Opposition leaders are already complaining about the secrecy surrounding Bakiev's medical condition and the president's extended "short vacation" abroad.

Omurbek Tekebaev, a former speaker of parliament and leader of the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party who is one of the most influential politicians in Kyrgyzstan, tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz that the government should arrange for the media to cover Bakiev in Germany.

"First of all, the presidential administration is to be blamed for the rumors, because, if there were timely information on the [president's] vacation and his health condition, then there wouldn't be any such rumors," Tekebaev says. "When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin goes to Sochi for vacation, [Russian television] shows how he climbed a mountain, how he met with youngsters and drank tea, how he was skiing, with whom he met there. Some of our high officials traveled [to Germany] during the month to meet with [Bakiev, and] they should show this on television."

There is also speculation over why Bakiev has set his return date for March 28.

The Russian daily "Vedomosti" reported on March 21 that Bakiev wants to be in Kyrgyzstan before the opposition holds a "kuriltai," or grand public meeting, on March 29. The agenda reportedly includes demands for early parliamentary and presidential elections. The opposition has alleged that parliamentary polls in December were undemocratic.

The Russian newspaper "Vremya novostei" reported on March 24 that Bakiev is timing his return to "eclipse the kuriltai," and that the president's office has already invited the media to come see a healthy Bakiev's arrival, distracting reporters from covering the opposition meeting.

After a month out of the country, Bakiev is likely to face a heavy Kyrgyz media presence on his arrival.

Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, contributed to this report

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