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Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan's Neighbors Tighten Laws To Prevent Revolutions

Neighboring states don't want to see a repeat of Kyrgyzstan's protests in their own countries In the wake of last month's popular revolt in Kyrgyzstan, neighboring governments are taking measures to prevent the same thing from happening in their own countries. The abrupt ouster of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev resonated throughout the region -- and no doubt raised anxiety among his fellow heads of state, all of whom have been in power since the early 1990s. Kyrgyzstan's neighbors have been quick to pass new laws in order to avert their own homegrown revolutions.

Prague, 20 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Many oriental cultures have a saying that "defeat is often more instructive than victory."

It's an apt sentiment in Central Asia today.

Images of last month's revolt in Bishkek are still fresh in the minds of many Central Asians. And the region's remaining presidents have no desire to make the same speech delivered by Akaev in early April.

"Guided by my human and civil duty before my own people as well as by humanistic motives, I would like to declare my early resignation as president, based on my own request,” Akaev said.

With this in mind, Central Asian governments have taken steps to ensure that public protests will not be allowed to force presidential overthrows.

Kazakhstan, for example, has banned public assemblies in the period between a vote and the announcement of its results. Then-Kazakh Justice Minister Ongalsyn Zhumabekov -- who has since moved to head the Central Election Commission -- outlined the changes on 8 April.

"We offered in our project that any mass gatherings and demonstrations between the end of the voting and official announcement of the election results should be banned," Zhumabekov said. "That proposal was approved [by the parliament]."

Kazakhstan is slightly better off than the other four Central Asian states. There is some independent media, an embattled but active opposition, and occasional public demonstrations.

Elsewhere in Central Asia, governments have targeted foreign embassies and nongovernmental organizations.

NGOs were believed to have played a role in the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. And Akaev accused U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young of helping to secure his ouster by complaining about the country's flawed parliamentary elections to local media.

Tajikistan took that into consideration in passing a new law last week that obligates foreign embassies and organizations working in Tajikistan to report to authorities on any contacts with media or political and civil activists.

Even reclusive and repressive Turkmenistan took measures to avoid a Kyrgyz scenario. The country has no opposition parties and has only had a few public demonstrations during its post-independence history. Even so, authorities there felt the need to take action in order to ensure their grip on power.
A new Tajik law obligates foreign embassies and organizations working in Tajikistan to report to authorities on any contacts with media or political and civil activists.

In one such step, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov gave the most precise date yet for holding presidential elections. Niyazov was made president for life in late 1999, but he has on occasion spoken of holding a vote for his successor in 2008 or 2010. Earlier this month he offered new details.

"In 2009, we need to have presidential elections," Niyazov said. "There must be an election, because there must be a replacement for this position sooner or later."

Akaev had angered many Kyrgyz by overseeing constitutional amendments that allowed him to hold multiple terms. In announcing the 2009 vote, Niyazov may have been looking to assure Turkmens that they will eventually have the opportunity to participate in a presidential vote.

Turkmenistan took other steps as well.

A new decree by Niyazov prohibits foreign postal services from delivering to Turkmenistan. Now all mail coming into Turkmenistan is handled by the state postal agency, Turkmenpochta. DHL, FedEx, and other foreign delivery firms are now barred.

Even more significantly, the decree affects the delivery of foreign periodicals and newspapers -- notably, "The Times of Central Asia," an English-language newspaper published in Kyrgyzstan.

Uzbekistan is the one Central Asian nation that has made no special moves to tighten its laws since the Kyrgyz events. But that may be because genuine opposition parties are already effectively banned in the country, and public dissent is virtually unheard of.

A number of elections are on the horizon in Central Asia. But none of the governments has signaled it is bringing its election laws in line with international standards.

The West has routinely criticized elections in the region as falling short of democratic guidelines. But for the leaders of Central Asia, the threat of a repeat Kyrgyz scenario is more urgent than Western calls for democratization.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh, Turkmen, and Tajik services contributed to this report)

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