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Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek Mayor Resigns As Investigation Begins

By Naryn Idinov and Bruce Pannier

Prague, 28 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Felix Kulov, the mayor of Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, announced his resignation yesterday. Kulov has become one of the best-known politicians in Kyrgyzstan since the country became independent in 1991, but he leaves office amid a scandal and with possible serious legal charges looming in his future.

Kulov was the minister of internal affairs for the Kyrgyz Republic when the August putsch took place in Moscow in August 1991, which triggered the final collapse of the Soviet Union. He is credited with helping Kyrgyzstan to become independent through his strong statements against the putschists in Moscow and by his forming military units to protect the government against local sympathizers during the three days of crisis.

Citizens of the newly independent state of Kyrgyzstan called him "the People's General." Kulov was elected vice-president of Kyrgyzstan but resigned in December 1993 to protest corruption in the government. His departure prompted the resignation of the country's then-prime minister, Tursunbek Chyngyshev, who was involved in a corruption scandal involved gold exports. Kulov then became governor of the Chu region before becoming minister of national security in 1996. He resigned from that post in March 1998. He became Bishkek's mayor in July 1998.

In yesterday's edition of the Kyrgyz newspaper "Vecherny Bishkek," Kulov explained his reasons for resigning. Kulov wrote that he found out that the Ministry of National Security is investigating him. Kulov admitted this is nothing new, that he had been investigated before, as had many other government officials.

But two weeks ago, he said, the former head of the ministry's department for the Osh region came to him and told him he was being investigated for allegedly plotting a coup d'etat against President Askar Akayev and the government.

In addition, Kulov wrote, attempts were being made by "a certain deputy" in parliament to connect Kulov to the death of Anarbek Bakayev, who was minister of national security before Kulov got the post. Bakayev died in January 1998 after never having regained consciousness following an automobile accident in September 1996. Kulov assumed the post of national security minister while Bakayev was in a coma. Kulov wrote that he tried to call the current minister of national security, Misira Ashirkulov, and his deputy, Valerii Verchagin, to discuss the investigation, but with no success.

At a press conference yesterday, Kulov said he also attempted to meet with President Akayev to discuss the allegations against him:

"Why was this decision taken against me? Of course, at first I wanted to address this question to Askar Akayev. I tried on Saturday (to meet with him), but they told me the president didn't have any opportunity. And on Monday, the president couldn't see me. After lunch on Monday, I sent him the appeal through the mail because I believed to repeat the attempt (to meet with him) was futile."

A copy of the appeal Kulov said he intended to give to Akayev was printed in yesterday's edition of the Kyrgyz newspapers "Vecherny Bishkek" and "Asaba." Kulov read from it at the press conference:

"I cannot work further under your leadership because with your connivance there are actions (in this country) which do not correspond to democracy and rule of law. I deeply believe the events which happened in our history before -- searching for enemies and opponents and liquidating them -- are being repeated in our country in renewed forms. It is obvious there are actions to form the public opinion that I have been one of the main organizers to overthrow you through unconstitutional measures, and I have been one of the most corrupt (people) in the country."

According to Kulov, the Ministry of National Security is trying to link him to the alleged coup by saying he is using members of the ministry's special "Kalkan" anti-terrorist unit to overthrow the government. Kulov formed the Kalkan unit while he was minister of national security. Six Kalkan servicemen, including the head of the force, have already been arrested for abuse of power.

National Security Minister Ashirkulov said an internal investigation launched by his ministry has turned up spying equipment in a Bishkek apartment used by the Ministry of National Security. Investigators say the equipment -- recording devices and devices use for bugging telephone calls -- belongs to the Kalkan unit and was purchased by Kulov in Russia when he headed the security ministry.

Presidential press spokesman Kanybek ImanAliyev said at a press conference yesterday that Akayev has ordered the matter to be investigated:

"Yesterday (April 26), the president gave orders to General Prosecutor Asanbek SharshenAliyev to confirm [whether] there is an investigation or if Kulov is just imagining it."

Kulov said yesterday that he will now use his free time to study the Kyrgyz language, which he speaks, although not fluently. His purpose in mastering the language may be linked to a requirement that presidential candidates be fluent in the state language.

Although Kulov did not say he will run for office when presidential elections are held late next year, many observers in Kyrgyzstan are taking his comments to mean he is contemplating such a move.