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Antipresidential Rally In Kyrgyzstan Kicks Off Hot Political Winter

  • Bruce Pannier

Opposition leaders address the demonstrators in Talas

Opposition leaders address the demonstrators in Talas

A day before Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev's expected return from medical treatment in Germany, a group of some 1,500 people demonstrated in the northern city of Talas to demand that he and his government start doing a better job -- and quickly.

The demonstration, called the People's Assembly, was part of regional meetings organized by a bloc calling itself the Revolutionary Committee.

The crowd listened to fiery rhetoric and songs expressing their shared sense of dissatisfaction. "My anger is growing...because of the feeling that my small and innocent motherland is being ruined by theft and corruption," sang opposition-oriented bard Sagynbek Mombekov. Former Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told the crowd that members of the president's family have allowed foreign owners to buy up Kyrgyz resources, and that farmers are being forced to sell their goods at low prices.

The opposition has been relatively quiet in recent months, but some groups, including the Revolutionary Committee, have been warning that President Bakiev's regime needs to act quickly to improve the lives of the country's citizens. The opposition says it will hold demonstrations if progress is not shown, and as the end of the year approaches, it appears they intend to make good on their promises.

Some are calling for Bakiev to resign, while others are going so far as to call for his overthrow. There are many who feel the promises made when massive demonstrations chased Bakiev's predecessor Askar Akaev from power in March 2005 have not only gone unfulfilled, but also that Bakiev and his family simply took over where Akaev left off, giving top posts to Bakiev's friends and family and allowing them to enrich themselves at the people's expense.

The opposition is now preparing for a bigger event at the end of this month -- a "kuriltai," or People's Grand Council, where opposition leaders are expected to appeal to the masses to rally against Bakiev and the government in much the same way the Kyrgyz people did in March 2005.

'No Basis For Resignation'

But on the other side of the political divide, Bakiev's supporters defend his record in office, and see no legitimate basis for the opposition's demands for the president's resignation.

"In the current conditions, there are no political or legal reasons for taking such a step," said Avtandil Arabaev, a member of parliament from the Ak-Jol party, the party Bakiev helped create to compete in early parliamentary elections in December 2007. The party easily won a majority of seats in parliament.

Presidential press secretary Nurlan Shakiev echoes that opinion, telling RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the government has done much to improve living conditions for Kyrgyzstan's people.

"No one is against the kuriltai. But in society there are differing opinions about the demands of the opposition. There are no grounds for the early departure of the president from office," Shakiev said. "For that to happen the president would have had to make serious mistakes, but there have not been such mistakes."

Defending Bakiev's efforts against poverty, Shakiev said: "The government has not left the issue of rising prices unattended. Measures were taken and various programs were introduced. If nothing had been done since 2005 it would be possible to make such demands [for Bakiev's resignation] but wages, social benefits, and pensions have been increased, the budget has tripled, and the war against corruption is starting to show results."

Babyrbek Jeenbekov, editor of the independent newspaper "Achyk Sayasat" (Open Politics), attended the meeting in Talas. Jeenbekov downplayed any urgent need for regime change, but he did stress that he authorities are running out of time.

"Right now the energy system does not function at all, the price of food is rising, and the authorities have let us down," Jeenbekov said. "If they cannot show they can deal with these issues in the next three or four months, they should leave. The idea that people gathered here today to demand the ouster of authorities right now is not correct. People gathered here only to express their dissatisfaction with the authorities. The authorities now should recognize this dissatisfaction and take action to correct the situation."

Bakiev is due to return to Kyrgyzstan on November 19 after spending about a month in Germany for medical treatment. He must prepare for two important dates that are fast approaching -- the opposition kuriltai on November 29 and the first anniversary of the disputed December 16 parliamentary elections.

RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Director Tynchtykbek Tchoroev and correspondent Zeinep Altymyshova contributed to this report