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Kyrgyzstan: President's Appeal Meets With Further Protest

Rallies continued today in Kyrgyzstan against recent parliamentary polls despite warnings from President Askar Akaev to the opposition. The release of a regional governor held by protesters since 14 March has diffused tensions in the southern city of Talas. But the sides appear far apart on major issues.

Prague, 16 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz protesters in Talas today released the governor they had been holding captive since they occupied the local administrative building two days ago.

Several thousand protesters who were crowded outside the building allowed their favored candidate, who lost in the recent parliamentary elections, to escort Talas Governor Iskender Aidaraliev to Bishkek.

Addressing the protesters, opposition candidate Ravshan Jeenbekov urged them to cooperate and clear a path for the governor to leave. "There won't be any obstacle [to the governor's exit]," Jeenbekov said. "We have decided together with you on that. Do we agree on that? We have agreed! Let's clear the way! That's right! Open the way!"
One analyst noted that the government appears at a loss over how to respond to recent events.

Both Jeenbekov and Aidaraliev are expected to negotiate with the government over the protesters' demands, which include a repeat of voting in one constituency in Talas and the firing of officials.

Meanwhile, protesters continued to occupy the administration building in Talas. Crowds have similarly taken control of local administrative buildings in another southern city, Jalal-Abad, amid dissatisfaction over parliamentary elections. Rallies are also continuing in the southern cities of Osh and Bazar-Korgon.

David Lewis is the director of the International Crisis Group's Central Asia project in Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan. He said that despite the tensions, protesters have been "quite disciplined" and opposition leaders remain in control of the rallies.

"In most cases [opposition leaders] are pretty much in control of what's going on -- obviously trying to direct people's discontent towards supporting a change in government policy," Lewis said. "Their first demand of course is President [Askar] Akaev to step down to have early presidential elections. So they're trying to be united around that kind of slogan. And there's some support in the south and places like Talas."

However, Lewis noted that the government appears at a loss over how to respond to recent events.

President Akaev yesterday accused opposition leaders of trying to drag the country into civil war through inflammatory appeals to the public. He also warned that the protesters involved in the occupation of administrative buildings will be punished.

"Those who organized mass public disorder will without fail be brought to justice for creating a tense situation in some regions. I urge our citizens in [the cities] of Talas, Jalal-Abad, and Uzgen to remain calm and be sensible," Akaev said.

Journalists in Bishkek say Akaev has been saying much the same thing for several weeks.

Several opposition leaders were fined by a Bishkek district court before the first round of elections for allegedly organizing an illegal rally in the capital.

Asiya Sasykbaeva is the director of Interbilim, a Bishkek-based civil-society support center. She said Akaev has sought unsuccessfully to convince protesters to stop their actions. Sasykbaeva predicted that negotiations between protesters and the government are likely to fail because people do not trust the president.

"The problem is that [Akaev] is always lying about transparency in these elections. He's trying to say the international community recognized the elections. He wants to say [protesters] shouldn't act like that because everything is OK in Kyrgyzstan," Sasykbaeva said.

The International Crisis Group's Lewis warns that if the government rejects compromise, the situation could escalate even further.

For news, background, and analysis on Kyrgyzstan's 27 February parliamentary elections and the demonstrations leading up to and following the 13 March runoff, see RFE/RL's webpage "Kyrgyzstan Votes 2005".