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Kyrgyz Leaders Facing Crisis Over Legitimacy

(file photo) 27 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In a statement late yesterday, the Kremlin said ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has asked permission to visit Russia and that his request has been granted.

The statement did not say that Akaev had asked for "political asylum" and it did not confirm whether Akaev has arrived in Russia yet. But the Associated Press quoted an unnamed Kremlin spokesman as saying Akaev has arrived in Russia.

The situation today leaves open the possibility that a crisis of legitimacy could develop for Kyrgyzstan's interim government.

On 24 March, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev was declared the interim prime minister. Both Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court and the outgoing parliament -- whose mandate has been extended until the next presidential elections scheduled for 26 June -- subsequently named Bakiev interim president.

But today, another opposition leader, Feliks Kulov, said the constitution does not allow for anyone to be simultaneously interim president and interim prime minister.

"We're in a situation where the interim prime minister is also interim president. In other words, he occupies a double interim leadership position," Kulov said. "But this situation is not envisaged by our constitution. Formally, there is here a procedural flaw that can be debated."

Kulov, who was appointed to oversee Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement agencies after his liberation from jail on 24 March, says he thinks another legal flaw stems from the fact that Akaev has still not formally resigned. Therefore, he insists the ousted leader must return to Bishkek and officially announce that he is stepping down.

"If our president leaves the country, he must come back and personally attend a session of our parliament to declare that he is stepping down," Kulov said. "Therefore, no one will be able to keep him locked in a cell and force him to resign."

Bakiev yesterday insisted that Akaev must return on his own and that he will not ask for his extradition.

"This is not how I envisage things, nor how parliament envisages them," Bakiev said. "If Mr. Akaev decides to come here -- or rather, come back -- he has the right to do so. Kyrgyzstan is his homeland. He has absolutely the right to live here. It is his prerogative."

Pro-Akaev Supporters

While the country's new leadership is striving to boost its legitimacy, it is being confronted by a growing opposition from within Kyrgyzstan. Bakiev yesterday said law enforcement officials are investigating reports that an assassination attempt was being prepared against him. Also yesterday, hundreds of supporters of the ousted president rallied in Akaev's home district of Kemin, about 150 kilometers east of Bishkek, before starting a protest march toward the capital. The main organizer of the demonstration was Akaev's last interior minister, Keneshbek Duishebaev.

Referring to the pro-Akaev march, Bakiev yesterday acknowledged there are risks of political unrest from what he described as a "counter-revolutionary movement." He said Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement agencies will do their utmost to prevent violence in the country.

The situation appears to have been defused without violence yesterday. Aziza Abdyrasulova, the head of a Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization known as Kylym Shamy (Torch of the Century), told RFE/RL that the protest march ended peacefully after consultations between Duishebaev and authorities in Kyrgyzstan's northern region of Chui.

"The residents from the Kemin district dispersed at around 6 p.m. Prior to that, Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova, and the newly appointed governor of Chiu region, [Turgunbek] Kulmyrzaev, came to them and negotiated with Duishebaev for some time. After the negotiations, the protesters dispersed peacefully," Abdyrasulova said.

But today, reports from the area say about 700 pro-Akaev demonstrators blocked a main road linking Bishkek to Kemin.

In its statement yesterday, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken with Bakiev by telephone and offered to help him sort out the current political imbroglio.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has also offered its assistance to the new Kyrgyz leadership. OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dimitrij Rupel spoke about the situation by telephone with the foreign ministers of Russia and Germany yesterday, and with the U.S. secretary of state. Rupel stressed the need for order to be restored and for a political dialogue between all sides in Kyrgyzstan to move forward.

Today, OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis arrived in Bishkek for talks with Bakiev, Kulov, and other political leaders. The consultations are expected to last two days.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)


Photo Gallery: Bishkek, 24 March -- A Day In Pictures

For more background on the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, see RFE/RL's dedicated website Revolution In Kyrgyzstan