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Who Is Roza Otunbaeva?

  • Antoine Blua

Roza Otunbaeva says she is now head of a temporary caretaker government.

Roza Otunbaeva says she is now head of a temporary caretaker government.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Roza Otunbaeva has said she is now the head of a temporary caretaker government, after the opposition said it had taken power following violent protests in Bishkek.

Otunbaeva, 59, is seen as different from other Kyrgyz politicians and has a reputation as "Ms. Clean."

She's considered an articulate and pragmatic politician, and a moderate voice able to negotiate among the country's fragmented opposition groups.

RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier describes Otunbaeva as "one of the most experienced Kyrgyz politicians" and that "she might actually be the most experienced politician in Kyrgyzstan today. By Kyrgyz standards, she certainly has huge international experience."

The former career diplomat speaks several languages -- English, French, and German, in addition to Kyrgyz and Russian -- and her lifestyle is considered "Westernized."

Joining The Opposition

Otunbaeva served as the country's first postindependence foreign minister in 1991 under President Askar Akaev. She again held the post in the mid-1990s and served as acting foreign minister in 2005 after the People's or "Tulip" Revolution that toppled Akaev.

Akaev was forced to flee to Russia in March 2005 in the face of public demonstrations and the storming of government facilities by supporters of opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev, following disputed parliamentary elections.

Otunbaeva had hoped to run in the February 2005 vote as a candidate for the opposition Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) political movement but was refused registration.

When antigovernment protests erupted weeks later, Otunbaeva played a key role in fanning the flames of discontent. "First of all, we will try to change the whole system," she told a crowd of demonstrators before the elections.

Soon after Bakiev was elected president in July 2005, he named Otunbaeva his acting foreign minister, but she failed to gain parliamentary approval. Many even speculated that Bakiev had a hand in that failure because he wanted to rid himself of a potential rival.

...Then Going Into Opposition

Less than a year later, Otunbaeva was still trying to change the system.

She joined the opposition in January 2006, becoming the co-chairwoman of the Asaba political party. The party's key demands included constitutional reforms that would transform the current presidential system into one that afforded the parliament greater power.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in March 2006, she accused the new government of balking at promised reforms.

"People had to feel something new within the last year. It is [understandable] that you cannot immediately make the factories work," Otunbaeva said. "However, if [the Kyrgyz government] stamped out corruption, then there would be a lot of money available [for reform]."

RFE/RL's Pannier says Otunbaeva's political record means she probably enjoys "one of the cleanest images" among Kyrgyz politicians -- at least as far as the public is concerned.

"The 2005 revolution really started rolling when she was denied registration as a candidate. The fact that the Central Election Commission excluded her for many people proved that indeed it was going to be a rigged election," Pannier says.

He says that after her six-month tenure as Bakiev's acting foreign minister, Otunbaeva left and "didn't show any interest in rejoining the state in any post." After joining the opposition, she "very quickly became the leading critic of President Bakiev and his government."

On the foreign-policy front, Otunbaeva's experience in dealing with diplomatic issues and her pragmatism lead some observers to predict that she would follow a more consistent line than Bakiev when it comes to relations with Russia, China, and the United States.

Early Career

Otunbaeva's career started in the latter years of the Soviet Union and the first decade of Kyrgyzstan's independence.

Born on August 23, 1950, in the southern city of Osh, Otunbaeva studied in Moscow, graduating in 1972 from the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University, where she subsequently completed graduate studies.

Otunbaeva returned to the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) in 1975 and taught for six years at Kirghiz State University before transferring to full-time work as a functionary for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the republic's capital, Frunze (now Bishkek).

In 1986, she was appointed deputy chairwoman of the Kirghiz SSR Council of Ministers, and foreign minister. From 1989 to 1991, she worked at the Soviet Foreign Ministry in Moscow, before returning to Kyrgyzstan in late 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the 1990s, Otunbaeva alternated spells as foreign minister with diplomatic postings as an ambassador -- first to the United States and Canada (1992-94) and then to the United Kingdom and Ireland (1997).

Between 2002 and 2004, she worked for the United Nations in Georgia.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

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