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Kyrgyzstan: Could It Emerge As Another Ukraine Or Georgia?

A presidential spokesman says the activities of the Kyrgyz opposition amount to "a putsch and a coup." It's becoming a familiar pattern. Failed elections, massive protests, government intransigence, and finally people power. But do events this week in Kyrgyzstan really resemble the recent revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine? The Kyrgyz opposition would like to think so, but some of the facts say otherwise. The Kyrgyz protests so far have been more violent and less controlled than in the other two countries. And Russia's role has yet to emerge. RFE/RL reports on what may be significant differences.

Prague, 22 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyzstan may have lost its claim to the next "velvet" revolution after violence erupted in the southern cities of Jalal-Abad and Osh.

In Jalal-Abad, on 20 March, protesters demanding the resignation of President Askar Akaev threw Molotov cocktails into a crowd. They set fire to a local administration building.

In Osh, the following day, a crowd chanting "Akaev must go" set fire to a billboard with Akaev's picture on it.

The violence ended relatively quickly, but several people were injured.

This is just one of the differences between what is happening in Kyrgyzstan and the peaceful revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.

The Kyrgyz opposition says they are now in control of the situation in areas where they have power. One of the opposition leaders, Emil Aliev of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, told RFE/RL by telephone today that their priority is to maintain order.

"We are in control of this process," he said. "And as soon as we began receiving reports, not even facts, of the possibility of [looting and violence], we sent orders to every region. We talked to our activists and called on the people to refrain from looting and violence."
"We are in control of this process. And as soon as we began receiving reports, not even facts, of the possibility of [looting and violence], we sent orders to every region. We talked to our activists and called on the people to refrain from looting and violence." -- Emil Aliev, Ar-Namys (Dignity) party

This is disputed by the presidential administration. A spokesman, Abdil Segizbaev, today said the opposition is not in control of the protests. He said they amount to "a putsch and a coup."

One problem is that the Kyrgyz opposition so far lacks a charismatic national leader like Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko or Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili to give the movement unity and coherence.

A journalist, Alisher Saipov, who witnessed the events in Osh, says there was little coordination among opposition groups as they took over an administrative building there.

"Yes, this is absolutely clear [that there is no unity among the opposition]," Saipov says. "Let's take my personal observations as an example. Omurbek Tekebaev, one of the opposition leaders, told me yesterday that he would like the president to stay in power until his term ends and, thus, he demonstrated he had some personal problems with ex-Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev [who is the most likely candidate for the presidency]. I had an impression that the opposition members throw stones at each other. Many people say that Roza Otunbaeva, who became a driving force of the Kyrgyz opposition according to President Akaev, plays just a consultant's role."

Aliev concedes there have been some organizational problems, but he says coordination among the groups is getting better.

"In the beginning, there were successful attempts [by the opposition] to coordinate these events. Then other people started joining in spontaneously, people who also had various demands, including political ones," he says. "Now, we are trying to coordinate all those actions."

One important unknown factor is how Russia will react.

The Kremlin played an important role in averting violence in Georgia by convincing President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign in the face of the Rose Revolution.

In Ukraine, Russia actively sided with government candidate Viktor Yanukovych. But when Yanukovych was defeated, the Kremlin was humiliated.

Perhaps reacting to Ukraine, the Kremlin is appearing more cautious in Kyrgyzstan. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered what was viewed as a mild endorsement of Akaev in January, promising to visit Kyrgyzstan this summer. Kremlin officials, however, also held meetings with prominent Kyrgyz opposition figures, including Otunbaeva.

Akaev was rumored to have traveled to Moscow on 20 March, but there has been no confirmation.

This week, there were calls from some within Russia to become more involved. Dmitriy Rogozin, the head of the Rodina faction in the Russian State Duma, said Russia may have to intervene with physical force to avoid bloodshed.

Ishengul Boljurova of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, speaking to RFE/RL from Bishkek, says she is concerned by these kinds of statements.

"We call on Russia to have a less biased and more careful approach toward Kyrgyzstan," she says.

Kurmanbek Bakiev today issued an appeal to Putin to help stabilize the situation in Kyrgyzstan, saying it is becoming a threat to regional stability.

The Ukraine protests lasted weeks and weeks. The Kyrgyz movement, by comparison, is still relatively young.