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Kyrgyzstan: Why Did Opposition Meet So Little Resistance?

Protesters in Bishkek today Opposition protesters appeared today to hold the advantage in Kyrgyzstan. Demonstrators in the capital who stormed the presidential compound met with very little resistance. Protesters in the southern provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad, too, have occupied government buildings without any major confrontations with police or security forces. Why did the government fail to put up a better fight?

Prague, 24 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Government authorities and police facing opposition demonstrators today in Bishkek appeared to give up without a fight.

The speed with which protesters were able to occupy the presidential compound was a fitting conclusion to an uprising that more often than not has seen soldiers and police letting demonstrators have their way -- or even joining forces with them.

Still, recent events in Kyrgyzstan have taken some analysts and politicians by surprise. Among them is Aleksei Malashenko, a Central Asia expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center. He says he believed President Askar Akaev would manage to rally his supporters -- and suppress the opposition uprising.
"I was convinced until the very end that Akaev was much more influential and that there were people who were ready to die for him." -- Aleksei Malashenko, Moscow Carnegie Center

"I was convinced until the very end that Akaev was much more influential and that there were people who were ready to die for him," Malashenko says.

Today's events, he says, suggest some oppressive regimes are much weaker than they appear -- something that only becomes noticeable once they collapse.

News agencies are reporting Akaev has left the country. Malashenko says the Kyrgyz leader now appears to have only two options.

"I think Akaev doesn't have many choices -- but he does have some," Malashenko says. "He can either resign honorably, or he can risk everything and go for broke. Invite those supporters he still has to join him."

Malashenko says the second scenario is still a realistic one. The north of Kyrgyzstan remains Akaev's political stronghold. Even if Akaev loses individual power, the northern political clans will continue to support him -- if only to hold onto their own power.

Still, Akaev's allies already appear to be distancing themselves from the beleaguered president. Akaev cannot expect much support from the West; nor is Russia likely to interfere on his behalf.

Sergei Luzyanin of the Moscow Institute of International Relations says Akaev may still be able to mobilize his supporters by pitting Kyrgyzstan's north against its south.

"I think [Akaev] still has some resources," Luzyanin says. "And I don't think everything is already finished. If President Akaev finds some resources -- and analysts are discussing different ways that he can get these additional resources -- [he might manage to save the situation]."

The opposition has effectively seized control of the government and has vowed to restore law and order in the country. Can they succeed? Some analysts -- like Sergei Mikheev of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies -- are pessimistic.

"What we are seeing now is complete chaos, and this chaos is likely to increase in the coming days," he says. "Opposition leaders have no resources to start controlling the whole country."

Not least among the opposition's tasks, Mikheev says, will be finding a way to present their apparent seizure of power as a legal act. In Ukraine, the opposition won a legitimate election. But in Kyrgyzstan, he says, power was seized openly.

"Akaev is a legal president who was removed from power by force," Mikheev says. "And the opposition will have to find some way to deal with this situation."

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