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Kyrgyzstan: Is Akaev Really Prepared To Resign?

Askar Akaev (file photo) In his first appearance since last week's apparent revolution in Kyrgyzstan, ousted President Askar Akaev spoke to the public yesterday. Akaev insisted on Russian radio and television that he remains Kyrgyzstan's president. But he suggested he would resign if he is offered certain "guarantees." Is Akaev really ready to resign -- and if so, what are the guarantees that he wants?

Prague, 30 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Akaev's remarks in a live telephone interview with Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio differed from those he made later the same day on Channel One television.

Akaev asserted clearly to Ekho Moskvy -- whose broadcasts reach the Kyrgyz capital -- that he was still the president of Kyrgyzstan and would not resign.

"I have not resigned as president yet, therefore I consider myself the one and only legitimate, elected president. At the moment, I see no reason to resign," Akaev said.

Akaev described himself as the only elected and legitimate president of Kyrgyzstan. He also said the only legitimate authority in Kyrgyzstan is its new parliament -- whose election sparked the anti-government demonstrations that ousted him. Akaev said the resulting interim government is not legitimate.

Speaking to Channel One television several hours later, Akaev was more conciliatory. He insisted that he was still head of state. But he said he might step down if he received certain guarantees.

"Of course [I am prepared to resign] -- if I am given the necessary guarantees, and if this takes place in full accordance with existing Kyrgyz law," Akaev said.

Akaev did not say what guarantees he is seeking.

The differing statements could be Akaev's way of signaling to Kyrgyz authorities that he might be willing to step down if his most important demands are met. The provisional Kyrgyz government is eager to see him resign -- particularly before the new presidential election scheduled for 26 June -- placing Akaev in a strong bargaining position.

Akaev's resignation would strengthen the claim of Kyrgyzstan's new rulers that they have respected constitutional norms.

Since Akaev's ouster on 24 March, the country's new leaders have repeatedly said they would grant him immunity in exchange for his resignation.

Opposition leader and provisional security chief Feliks Kulov told reporters on 30 March that the authorities would guarantee Akaev's personal safety and his assets so that he might exit in an orderly way. But Kulov has since resigned.

Lawmaker Adakham Madumarov -- declaring his intention to run for president in June -- said on 30 March that if he wins he will confiscate any assets that Akaev and his family acquired dishonestly.

Aleksei Malashenko, a Central Asia expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, says Akaev is likely to wait until a strong leader emerges among the opposition who is willing and able to fulfill promises of immunity and guarantees. Time, he says, is on Akaev's side.

"His range for bargaining is enormous, since he hasn't stepped down yet. He has psychological reasons to believe that he might come back, for two reasons. First of all, there is no single leader who could be his counterpart; it's not clear who [Akaev] can talk with. Tekebaev is a formal [negotiating partner]. But there are informal ones, such as Kulov, [interim Prime Minister Kurmanbek] Bakiev, and so on," Malashenko says.
"I have not resigned as president yet, therefore I consider myself the one and only legitimate, elected president. At the moment, I see no reason to resign." -- Askar Akaev

Malashenko says the second dilemma that Akaev faces is what to bargain over:

"Actually, the Kyrgyz economy has been privatized to [Akaev's] family. They'll talk about what property would be returned, to whom it would be returned, and where it would stay. After solving the first dilemma, Akaev will simply bargain over his economic situation, about his fate and so on," Malashenko says.

Legislation from 2003 granted broad guarantees to ex-Kyrgyz presidents -- including immunity from prosecution and 80 percent of their presidential salaries, along with security and other services, a personal office, and a free residence. Those privileges also extend to a former president's family.

Sergei Mikheev heads the CIS department at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. He tells RFE/RL that the Akaev family's business interests will occupy a central part of any bargain, adding that the country's new leadership has already discussed the issue publicly.

"A few days ago, Feliks Kulov said there would be no re-privatization or re-nationalization. It is a very well known fact that the Akaevs hold most of the country's [profitable] businesses. What does Kulov's statement mean? Does it mean that the Akaevs' businesses are going to remain in their hands? That would mean a return to the old situation," Mikheev says.

Kyrgyz law states that former presidents cannot be made criminally liable for actions they carried out pursuant to their mandates.