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Central Asia: Oppositionists Closely Following Political Developments In Ukraine

Exiled Uzbek opposition leader Mohammed Salih The people of Central Asia are keeping a close eye on Ukraine. Over the next three months, all of the Central Asian republics except Kazakhstan are scheduled to hold legislative elections. The polls are likely to raise concerns once again over the region's lack of democracy. But as RFE/RL reports, Central Asians are also wondering whether their upcoming elections might somehow be inspired by the dramatic developments in Ukraine.

Prague, 2 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The success of Georgia's bloodless Rose Revolution, which toppled former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze last year, sparked great interest among opposition groups seeking to bring democratic reform to Central Asia.

Now, thousands of Ukrainian protesters peacefully protesting for democracy in the streets of Kyiv are giving the Central Asians further hope.

Mohammed Salih, the exiled leader of Uzbekistan's opposition Erk party, shared his thoughts with RFE/RL.

"We support the struggle of the Ukrainian opposition for democracy. Ukraine's democratic forces have come through the first stage of this struggle with honor. We wish them a final victory. This victory will be a victory for those who still believe in, and have not lost their faith in freedom," Salih said.
"Organizing demonstrations and filling the streets with people in order to force [authorities] to cancel the results of the election [in Ukraine] are illegal actions." -- Deputy head of the Kyrgyz presidential administration Bolot Januzakov

A Kazakh opposition delegation has recently visited Ukraine to study the methods used by supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. According to a member of the delegation, Tolen Tokhtasynov, the ideas of both Georgia's Rose Revolution and the Ukrainian protest movement are finding fertile ground in Kazakhstan ahead of its 2007 presidential election.

"The [Ukrainian] opposition united half a year ago and chose one common candidate for presidency. And Yushchenko was chosen as the candidate. We, the Kazakh opposition, are on the same path now," Tokhtasynov said.

The European Union and the United States both heavily criticized Ukraine's presidential election as failing to meet democratic standards.

But Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan were among the few nations besides Russia to recognize the official results of the 21 November runoff, won by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych thanks to what his rival Yushchenko called "massive fraud."

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev later wrote Yanukovych a letter, saying his victory "certifies the choice of Ukrainian people in favor of the nation's unity, democratic development, and economic progress."

But Central Asian governments may also be wondering whether the opposition methods used in Ukraine and Georgia could one day be applied to them.

The deputy head of Kyrgyzstan's presidential administration, Bolot Januzakov, strongly criticized the Ukrainian opposition during an interview with RFE/RL.

"Organizing demonstrations and filling the streets with people in order to force [authorities] to cancel the results of the election [in Ukraine] are illegal actions," Januzakov said.

Wary Of People Power

Tajikistan, for its part, has not officially reacted to the election. But Sayfullo Safarov, deputy director of the Tajik president's Center for Strategic Research, is critical of the Ukrainian opposition while raising the specter of civil war, such as the one that ravaged Tajikistan in the 1990s.

"The Ukrainian people want to establish democracy in their own country through political activities. But democracy has specific values that are acquired through a [long] process. Our experience shows that if people are ready to build democracy, they should do so with the incumbent government and with the elected president," Safarov said.

The Turkmen leadership has not reacted, either. A Turkmen citizen who asked to remain anonymous told RFE/RL that the country's tightly controlled media are ignoring what is going on in Ukraine.

"The Turkmen people support the truth and support [opposition candidate] Viktor Yushchenko. Honestly, the media in Turkmenistan do not cover Ukraine's crisis. All media broadcast music [and] songs," the man said.

Parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan in September were widely criticized as rigged, yet the results failed to generate much of a public outcry.

But Alikhan Baimenov, co-chairman of Kazakhstan's Ak Zhol opposition party, now says that Ukraine can serve as a model for developing democracy in the former Soviet Union.

"We see that authorities in the other CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries learn lessons from the events [in Ukraine]. In fact, first of all, those in power should demand that their opponents stick to the law only when they themselves serve as an example of respect for the law. We see that the Ukrainian opposition is well organized and very responsible," Baimenov said.

Ukraine's democratic forces have been building for several years and now form a powerful bloc. Their counterparts in Central Asia are taking notes.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek services contributed to this report.)

For background and analysis on Turkmenistan's upcoming parliamentary elections, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: "Turkmenistan Votes."

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