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BISHKEK -- Hundreds of inmates in seven Kyrgyz prisons started a hunger strike today to demand better living conditions and meals, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

The Kyrgyz Committee to Control Penitentiaries (KUIS) press secretary, Joldoshbek Buzurmankulov, told RFE/RL that the inmates ate breakfast today but by early afternoon refused to eat their lunches.

Buzurmankulov said it is likely the mass hunger strike by the inmates was orchestrated from outside as the hunger strike started at once in all seven prisons.

Meanwhile, Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun told RFE/RL that according to his sources the hunger strike is connected to the resignation of parliament speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov on December 12.

Akun added that people from his office have been to the penitentiaries and in some of them, namely in labor camp No. 31, the hunger strikers demanded that Keldibekov be reappointed as speaker.

KUIS Deputy Chairman Kalybek Kachkynaliev told RFE/RL that Akun's statements have to be checked. He said talks are currently being held with the hunger strikers.

Keldibekov announced his decision to step down on December 12 amid allegations of ties to criminal groups. Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party members initiated a probe into alleged ties between Keldibekov and criminal groups earlier this month.

Kanybek Imanaliev, chairman of the parliamentary commission that investigated Keldibekov, told RFE/RL on December 12 that the probe revealed evidence that advisers and assistants appointed by Keldibekov had connections to Kyrgyz criminal groups and that it had been proven that Keldibekov had met with reputed Kyrgyz crime boss Kamchy Kolbaev during private trips to Dubai, Istanbul, and the Russian city of Astrakhan this year.

Some 1,500 supporters of Keldibekov are rallying in the southern city of Osh today demanding that the parliament be dissolved.

Read more in Kyrgyz here
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