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Kyrgyzstan: Police Make Arrests In Connection With Weekend Protests

  • Bruce Pannier

Police in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek broke up a demonstration over the weekend and detained more than 150 people. Many of those detained came from the southern part of the country. Kyrgyz authorities held those believed to be the organizers of the demonstration and forcibly sent the others back. This protest was quelled, but as our correspondent reports, the reasons for the demonstration were not even addressed.

Prague, 18 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz police have detained more than 150 protesters in the capital Bishkek since 15 November. Police later put many of them on buses and sent them back to their homes in the south of the country in what turned out to be a vain attempt to obtain concessions from the government.

The situation has calmed again, but the gap between the authorities and the citizens in Kyrgyzstan appears to be widening.

Organizers of the protest had planned to march to the center of Bishkek at the end of last week. Since many of the roughly 1,000 protesters had traveled through the mountains from areas hundreds of kilometers to the south, the police in Bishkek were well aware of what was being planned.

The roads leading into Bishkek's center were blocked by late last week, but that did not stop hundreds of protesters from attempting to reach the city center while calling for President Askar Akaev to leave office.

"Akaev, go away! Akaev, go away!" they chanted.

Police then surrounded the protesters and kept them just outside the capital. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev said the action was taken to "avoid riots in Bishkek and to prevent provocations."

The demonstrators tried to reach the city center again the next day. This time police detained about 20 of the protesters and kept the rest from reaching their goal.

First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told a news conference in Bishkek that the protest was organized by an opposition that was "trying to destabilize the country and overthrow the legitimate authorities."

Presidential adviser Bolot Januzakov said the government offered to hold talks with the protesters but were turned down. Januzakov then echoed Osmonov's remarks. "In connection with the [protest], I would like to say that what is happening now, what is sometimes organized by the so-called 'opposition forces,' is nothing but political extremism. Today their main goal is to fight for power at any price," Januzakov said.

The protests are the latest in a series of actions this year in Kyrgyzstan. Public demonstrations started in January when a popular political figure from southern Kyrgyzstan, Azimbek Beknazarov, was taken into custody on charges of corruption. Demonstrations by Beknazarov's supporters in southern Kyrgyzstan in March turned violent when police opened fire on crowds in Aksy Raion, killing at least five people.

Demonstrations since then have called for the people responsible for giving the order to fire to be tried and punished and have increasingly featured demands that President Askar Akaev be impeached or resign.

Other issues have made their way into the protesters' demands so that as of last week, the crowd was calling for Akaev's ouster; the release from jail of Feliks Kulov, the leader of the opposition Ar-Namys Party; and for lifting an election placed on Usen Sydykov of the Agrarian Labor Party.

The case against Beknazarov was suspended after the deaths in Aksy.

On 16 November, the demonstrators planned to hold a "kurultai," or public meeting, at a marketplace in Bishkek as part of their protest. But as roughly 300 demonstrators gathered in the morning waiting for organizers to inform them of the day's plans, police moved in and took many of them away in buses.

Kyrgyz authorities called the planned kurultai a "mob" and a "motley gathering" organized by "political extremists." Deputy Prime Minister Osmonov said the protests were political blackmail and the protesters' actions looked like mutiny.

But Deputy Prime Minister Osmonov said on Saturday there could be a dialogue when he and deputies from opposition parties met at a roundtable on constitutional reform hosted by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz bureau in Bishkek. "If we want to unite the people of Kyrgyzstan, and to consolidate them, then we should gather the people with different opinions, including opposition, all the political parties and NGOs, mass media, and then, of course, the employees of the governmental organizations, the other patriots. All these people, all of us have to work for consolidation and unity," Osmonov said.

Opposition member of parliament Ishenbai Kadyrbekov agreed but maintained he supported the actions of demonstrators. "I am happy to have this dialogue here. I fully support Kurmanbek Ergeshovich [Osmonov]. Both opposition and the authorities have to be able to listen to each other. I think this is the main matter [for Kyrgyzstan]," Kadyrbekov said.

Police held the 129 protesters and identified them, which in some cases was not easy, as dozens of the protesters came to Bishkek without any identification. Those who came from areas in the southern part of the country were put on buses yesterday and sent back.

One man from the south said he was being forced to return. "Now [the authorities] are returning us to our place of residence [by force]. From now on, for the sake of God, every person, every one of us, will protect our human rights. Moreover, the people will support Usen Sydykov to participate in the runoff elections."

Today, it was reported that police in Bishkek had arrested 63 people who had eluded detainment over the weekend.

There was no opposition demonstration in Bishkek today, but there was a pro-government rally held in Bishkek's center.

Meanwhile, protests were held today in Kerben, in Aksy Raion. Many of those attending the Kerben rally had just been returned from Bishkek.

The protesters in Kerben are demanding the same concessions from the government as the protesters in Bishkek called for last weekend but seem as unlikely to receive satisfaction.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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