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Kyrgyz President Won't Back Down, As Opposition Claims Power

Bishkek - A Day After The Deadly Protestsi
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April 08, 2010
Bishkek residents found many government buildings ransacked and shops burned and looted in the center of the Kyrgyz capital this morning, after violent clashes between antigovernment protesters and security forces claimed at least 68 lives on April 7.

WATCH: Bishkek residents found many government buildings ransacked and most of the shops empty and looted in the center of the Kyrgyz capital this morning. (video: Reuters)

BISHKEK (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev has said he will not relinquish power to an opposition coalition that said it was forming an interim government in the wake of a violent uprising.

In an interview with the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Bakiev said, "I am the elected head of state and I do not accept any defeat."

His remarks came after the opposition said it had taken control of the government and dissolved parliament following the April 7 clashes between antigovernment protesters and police that left at least 75 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister, said she was now head of a temporary caretaker government (see profile) after Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov signed a letter of resignation.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today, Otunbaeva said she would coordinate an interim administration for at least six months until a new constitution is drafted that would pave the way for "fair" presidential and parliamentary elections:

But Bakiev, speaking to Ekho Moskvy several hours later, said he did not intend to resign and accused the opposition of an armed seizure of power.

"I think this is a real orgy [of violence] carried out by an armed group of people and I do not consider it my defeat," Bakiev said. He acknowledged, however, that he had been "stripped of any possibility" to influence events in the country at the moment.

The statement from Bakiev was the first since the unrest erupted in the northwestern city of Talas on April 6. His exact whereabouts are still unclear, though he said he was currently in the south of the country -- his stronghold -- as the opposition had earlier suggested.

Bakiev's statement of defiance capped another extraordinary day of events in Kyrgyzstan and raised the prospect of continued instability in the Central Asian country.

In what appeared to be an early sign of recognition of the interim government, the website of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he spoke to Otunbaeva by phone today in her capacity as the "head of the Kyrgyz government of national confidence."

Otunbaeva -- who helped bring Bakiev to power in the 2005 revolution that toppled his predecessor, Askar Akaev -- had urged the president to resign, saying his business "in Kyrgyzstan is finished."

Bakiev's Whereabouts Unclear

Bakiev has yet to appear in public since the unrest erupted in the northwestern city of Talas on April 6, and his exact whereabouts were not immediately clear.

He reportedly fled the capital for the southern part of the country, where Otunbaeva said he was trying to rally supporters "in order to continue defending his positions."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent in the southern city of Jalal-Abad said the regional governor told a crowd there today that Jalalabad was establishing a "committee" to protect Bakiev. Governor Koshbai Masirov said Jalal-Abad would not allow anyone to offend "our son," a reference to Bakiev, who hails from the region.

There's also been no word from Prime Minister Usenov.

The country's de facto rulers -- many of them political figures released just hours earlier from jail -- said they were in control of the army, police, media, the parliament, the White House, hospitals and Bishkek international airport.

Among those released was Ismail Isakov, a former defense minister jailed on what supporters said were politically motivated charges of abuse of power. Isakov -- named by Otunbaeva as interim defense minister -- said people had nothing to fear now from the security forces, and described the security situation as stable.

"There is no reason to conclude that security is not being maintained in the country. The people's power has been established everywhere. The border guards are guarding the borders and carrying out their own duties," Isakov said. "There is just one matter that we need to stop activities of tiny clans of the corrupt families who care about their own interests, then, as I strongly believe, life will go on by its order."

However, RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondents said the situation in Bishkek remained chaotic today. With continued looting and city residents setting up voluntary groups in an attempt to keep order, the self-proclaimed new interior minister, Bolot Sherniazov, ordered security forces to fire on looters.

Some of the members of Otunbaeva's team were seen talking to crowds of people who were outside the White House.

A national day of mourning will be held on April 9 to honor victims of the April 7 clashes.

RFE/RL's correspondent in the northern Chui Province also said there had been reports today that groups of Kyrgyz had attacked members of the local Dungan minority, a Muslim people of Chinese origin.

In a radio address, Otunbaeva called on people "not to give in to provocations or destroy and loot the property of ordinary citizens."

The chaos followed weeks of tension between the opposition and the government led by Bakiev, who opponents say has cracked down on independent media and fostered corruption.

In other developments today, Russian news agencies reported that Moscow had sent 150 extra troops to its military base in Kant. The Kremlin also said it ordered increased protection for Russian diplomatic missions and other institutions in Kyrgyzstan.

And the UN secretary-general and the current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kazakhstan, said they would send special envoys to Kyrgyzstan to monitor the situation.

The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called for a quick return to law and order and said the EU would offer emergency aid to Kyrgyzstan.

Washington Reaching Out To Both Sides

The international community -- including the United States, Russia, China and the United Nations -- has urged all sides to show calm and restraint.

Before the opposition claimed control, Bakiev’s son, Maxim, accompanied by Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev, left Bishkek for Washington to take part in government-level meetings.

Today U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said a State Department official met briefly this morning with Sarbaev to inform him that the scheduled meeting had been canceled.

He added that in Bishkek this morning, the U.S. Embassy's charge’ d’affairs had met with Otunbaeva, and said in both encounters, the U.S. message was that “we hope that calm will be restored in a manner consistent with democratic principles.”

“Our priority at this point is law and order and that democracy be established in accordance with the rule of law,” Crowley said. “We continue to reach out to government officials and opposition leaders in every way that we possibly can.”

Crowley said there has been no U.S. contact with Bakiev, and when asked if Washington still considers him the president, the spokesman replied that U.S. officials are “in touch with government ministries … and opposition figures” alike.

“We stand with the people of Kyrgyzstan. We understand that there were specific grievances that resulted in the demonstrations that have produced an opposition that now says that it has effective control of the government,” he said, adding, “We will continue to work to help Kyrgyzstan and the people of Kyrgyzstan to have a government that they can support and that functions in accordance with democratic principles.”

U.S.-Russian Cooperation

U.S. officials also said today that they're working closely with Russia to respond to the changing situation in Bishkek. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the latest developments before signing an arms treaty in Prague.

At a press briefing following the signing, Michael McFaul, Obama's advisor on Russian affairs, said the United States doesn't view the conflict as a proxy struggle between Washington and Moscow. 

Kyrgyzstan is home to a military base in the city of Manas that Russia tried to claim before the U.S. gained access to the facility as a supply line to Afghanistan.

McFaul said the two leaders agreed that they have mutual interests in Kyrgyzstan’s stability, and said that unlike at the beginning the Obama’s term in office, when “there was a sense of 'it's us against them'” with regard to the competition for control of the Manas air base, “what was striking today, as we talked about our mutual interests and security in Kyrgyzstan, was that we were not talking in zero-sum terms. We were talking about our mutual interests there."

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan today said flights supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan from the U.S. military air base at Manas had been temporarily suspended. However, a spokesman said the move had not had any significant impact on operations or logistical support in Afghanistan.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Johann from: USA
April 08, 2010 12:56
This is not over yet !!!
Bakiev is still in power in the southern city of Jalal-Abad supported by the local governor Kashbai Masirov. As a governor he has control of local police and local military.
Russians live in the north and Muslims live in the south.
So Kyrgyzstan is going to repeat the religious versus communists civil war that raged in Tajikistan a few years back .
USA doesn't have enough boots on the ground to interfere militarily and I would not be willing to support that we sacrifice our boys for some internal strife.
Chine borders Kyrgyzstan so they could technically send in military.
This is going to end up as a civil war, with Russians sending peacekeeping force to Kyrgyzstan like happened in Abkhazia and South-Ossetia.
In Response

by: Andre from: Dushanbe
April 08, 2010 16:03
'Johann' is probably right. Although wrong that a future civil war will be fought along 'religious-communist' lines. It wasn't the case in Tajikistan-it was a civil war fuelled by perceived unfair housing allocations and there is no reason to frame these events in a communist versus Islamic framework. That is misleading.

The key to this will be how Russia, China and the US react to this. All three have alot to lose from instability in Central Asia. Russia has a millitary base in the region as does the US (for the US this base is an important regional security outpost especially with Afghanistan in mind). China also will not want a popular uprising gaining power, given the problems that they have with the Uighurs in Xianjiang.

All this is worrying and as someone below has aptly noted 'not over yet'. It will pivot on how the three great powers react.
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar from: Eurasia
April 09, 2010 08:58
"It wasn't the case in Tajikistan-it was a civil war fuelled by perceived unfair housing allocations and there is no reason to frame these events in a communist versus Islamic framework."

Yes, plus land and a political power struggle between micro-regions recuperated by Soviet apparachiks that wanted to stay in power. Hell broke loose for good when external actors started to support and arm parties (Karimov with Kenjaev, the Lakai Uzbeks and colonel Qudoberdiev; the Russians with the Leninabad Soviet).

To see the events in Kyrgyzstan as a 'war' between 'the religious south' and the 'secular-russianized north' is nonense. For a start, the social geography of Islam and religion in Kyrgyzstan is much more complex than that.

So far, things in Osh and Jalalabad seems to be calm and people rather schocked by the grim turn that things took in Bishkek. Personally, I'm not surpised by the latter because the rich-poor gap and then decadent lifestyle of the priviledged and the new rich are all more visible in Bishkek than anywhere else.

What *might* exacerbate north-south tensions is, if the interim government or who- or whatever succeeds it, starts to systematically push southerners out of government and administration or if southerners living in Bishkek deliberately become the target of harrassment and violence. This is more or less what happened between Kulyabi, Garmi, Ismaili, ... in Dushanbe and the Vakhsh valley in the '90s. It's theoretically possible. So far, there are not signs, that this is happening though.

As for the 'powers': my impression is that they seem to be take aback by the run of events.

Finally, dont' blame Islam for the economic and social morass in Kyrgyzstan and for the violence. Rather blame the international financial institutions who, in symbiosis with cleptocratic-parasitic elites consisting of former Soviet apparachiks ane their spawn, ruined and dislocated the country with their neo-liberal 'reform' programmes. It should be the IFI offices who should be wrecked and the IFI consultants who should be booted out of the country really!

by: Frank T. Csongos from: Washington, DC
April 08, 2010 13:37
I am impressed by thew fact that this story carried a Bishkek dateline and that there was original reporting from the country. It would have been nice to see an RFE/RL byline as well, which would have given the story even more authenticity. The New York Times wrote its story under a Moscow dateline. The AP dispatch did carry a Bishkek dateline.

by: Ryan Weber from: New York, NY
April 08, 2010 14:30
RFE/RL has a very good office with more than 20 full-time journalists active in Bishkek, called Radio Azattyk. In addition to, they are putting out some of the best and most thorough coverage of the events unfolding. Where things go from here is anyone's guess, though I seriously doubt it will look anything like Tajikistan or the situation in Georgia. Azattyk often omits by-lines from their english lang stories to protect their reporters from gov reprisal, though hopefully under the new regime this will be less necessary.

Kyrgyz is split regionally between North and South, but it is FAR more complex than a "Russia-Muslim" divide. That Osh has already capitulated to the opposition is a Huge sign that this is boiling down to a national change of government, with Bakiev holding out only in his most-connected home region of Jalalabad. Also, the inactivity of the Kyrgyz army to this point is encouraging to the possibility of a rapid restoration of peace.

All the best to the RA staff - keep up the great work, and stay safe.

by: Andre from: Dushanbe
April 08, 2010 16:05
Also, I would like to commend RFE for being the most, accurate, quickest and balanced news outlet to turn to for this crisis.
In Response

by: Jack from: London
April 08, 2010 17:15
Totally right, where is Bakiev? He isn't in Osh as shown by the take over of the provincial government there. Big question is how the opposition decide how to set up a government, the consitution project done similar to a Nepal style congress to rewrite the social politics is interesting. You still need to have a state but who controls that, plus over 50% of gdp is a clannish illegal 'black' economy, how do you develop that? I reckon tourism might be out for a while.
In Response

by: another satisfied reader from: israel
April 08, 2010 17:42
in response to the praise for RFE/RL above ('most accurate, quickest, and balanced news outlet to turn to in this crisis'), i would add that RFE/RL provides outstanding coverage for central asia, the caucasus, and eastern europe all the time, not just during times of crisis. my only complaint is that the english-language websites are not updated more frequently (especially that of tajikistan) ... good work and be safe!

by: Aibek
April 08, 2010 16:41
Could Kyrgyzstan split? Maybe the north (Chuy, Issyk-Kul, Talas) get taken over by Kazakstan, and the rest goes to Uzbekistan? China has already grabbed a big piece along the border.

by: Johann from: USA
April 08, 2010 21:02
I was just thinking about many in the west that criticize governments of
Belarus, Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan for being authoritarian
and illegitimate
But presidents of this countries were all elected in free and ( fair ) elections.
So was the former communist president of Moldova.
So is The West, or Russia going to support a new government in Kyrgyzstan that came to power in bloody and violent takeover ?
After all president Bakiev was elected president, in free and ( fair ) election !

by: Keith from: Canada
April 08, 2010 21:28
So far as I can tell, nothing has been heard yet from Feliks Kulov who is always a key figure in Kyrgyzstani politics, but it looked as if he might have been standing by Bakiev's side in the latest video clip from Osh.

by: J from: US
April 09, 2010 00:06
He is right about that. The mob took over a few buildings, that doesn't make them legitimate in any way.

by: uzma from: Islamabad
April 09, 2010 09:34
I think the situation in Kyrgyzstan will not stabilize soon. Bakiev's efforts to consolidate support from his strong hold in the south of the country and statement by governor of southern province to protect Bakiev demonstrate that dangers of a civil war is looming large over the country. On the other hand US response to the development indicates that it would most probably support Bakiev if he shows some signs of strength. There will be a clash between US and Russian interests through Bakeiv and opposition.

by: Gulmira from: Kyrgyzstan
April 14, 2010 02:35
What has Bakiev done to his own people, is unhumane, brutal and unforgivable. He has killed 82 kyrgyz citizens. For what? Just for his own enjoyment and richness. Even after people were killed he does not want peace come to Kyrgyz land. He wants to get support from US in order to somehow prolong his power. But USA should support real democracy i.e. current opposition. Even the translation of TV channels can describe that nowadays everyone can speak openly versus during the Bakiev's power kyrgyz people could see only pro Bakiev view and no contrary info could go through. Besides
all the open minded people( journalists and opposition people) were harrassed, even some were killed.

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