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Kyrgyzstan: Country Remains Volatile Months After Akaev’s Ouster

Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev In an address to the permanent council session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on 30 May, Kyrgyz interim President Kurmanbek Bakiev said the situation in his country has been brought back to normal. However, a series of recent incidents suggest that the weakness of the new leadership, combined with burning social and economic issues, have created a volatile environment that persists months after the ouster of President Askar Akaev.

Prague, 7 June 2005 (RFE/RL) – On 1 June, a crowd of 200 people stormed the Supreme Court building in Bishkek to forcibly evict protesters who had occupied it since the end of April.

But despite the fact that the confrontation ended with police taking control of the building, the evicted protesters did not go away.

For the past week, they have continued to gather near the building’s entrance to prevent judges from returning to work. The several dozen people claim the judges unlawfully disqualified candidates they supported in the February-March parliamentary elections -- polls which were criticized as unfair by international monitors.

Today, however, the protesters finally eased their siege somewhat. They allowed some officials into the building but continued to refuse entry to the court’s chairman and other judges.

The continuing ability of a group of protesters to obstruct the normal operation of an official institution for more than 40 days raises the question of how much Kyrgystan’s political situation has settled since former President Akaev was chased from power in street demonstrations in late March.

Anara Tabyshalieva, a research fellow at the nongovernmental Institute for Regional Studies in Bishkek, said Kyrgyzstan is going through a continuing transition phase.

"We should not see [such incidents] only as negative, as chaos," Tabyshalieva said. "It's a very healthy and normal process that people are able to express their requests and their unhappiness. It's only beginning and in the future people will learn how to discuss [things] with each other."

Parliament appointed opposition leader Bakiev as interim president a day after protesters drove Akaev from office. Bakiev later appointed another prominent opposition leader, Feliks Kulov, as first deputy prime minister.

Bakiev has also appointed other ministers and local representatives, but those appointments have not always been accepted by all of Kyrgzstan’s political factions.

On 31 May, about 100 demonstrators tried unsuccessfully to storm the regional-administration building in Osh. They demanded the resignation of the Bakiev-appointed acting governor, Anvar Artykov, who they said has unfairly distributed humanitarian aid.

Peter Sinnott, a professor of Central Asian studies at New York's Columbia University, said the storming of buildings in Bishkek and Osh by protesting factions are not likely by themselves to overturn the new political order in Kyrgyzstan. But he said they do underscore the volatility of the republic.

"I don't see it as destabilizing," Sinnott said. "I see it as a natural outcome when you don't really have yet a democratic base. You're still arguing over the parliamentary elections, which were not free and fair. People have been pretty clear in that they want change. [And] they feel that there is no real authority, either at the Supreme Court or in many of the regional government offices."

Long-standing social problems, such as land ownership, have also surfaced in the wake of Akaev’s ouster.
"People have been pretty clear in that they want change. [And] they feel that there is no real authority, either at the Supreme Court or in many of the regional government offices." -- professor of Central Asian studies

Thousands of squatters, many from the poorer southern regions, have occupied land around the capital Bishkek, insisting that they should be allocated land by the new authorities.

The squatting has infuriated residents of Bishkek who say the newcomers are taking the law into their own hands.

Some analysts say that the continuing mob actions in Kyrgyzstan today are due to the new leadership’s lack of legitimacy and the resulting indecision on the part of the central government.

"The exit of Akaev has opened up this possibility for people to exert more pressure on their leaders," Dave said. "And it has also made people quite impatient."

Bhavna Dave, a specialist in Central Asian affairs who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said the early presidential polls scheduled for 10 July could help normalize the situation in the country by giving the new leadership legitimacy to implement policies.

"If Bakiev is able to win a clear mandate and if elections are recognized as open, democratic, free and fair, and if there isn't too much contestation, then it will give the Bakiev-Kulov leadership much greater leverage than they currently have," Dave said. "[It] doesn't mean the problems will go away, but a strong center will be in a much better position to deal with regional demands."

Analyst Tabyshalieva said there are already signs of Kyrgzstan’s new leaders taking the first steps toward developing a stable working relationship among themselves.

She noted that on 13 May, Arnamys (Dignity) party leader Kulov dropped plans to run for president just hours after the unrest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon.

Kulov has also come to a power-sharing arrangement with Bakiev. Should Bakiev be elected president, Kulov would then become prime minister with enlarged prerogatives, under the agreement.

Tabyshalieva said the two leaders have “sacrificed” their own ambition for the sake of stability.

"In the event of destabilization in Uzbekistan, we might have thousands of refugees in the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley," Tabyshalieva said. "It would be a disaster for small Kyrgyzstan. In this light Kulov and Bakiev made the right decision -- to cooperate with each other."

Kulov has a strong base in the north, and Bakiev has support in south, and competition between the two could cause a rift in Kyrgyz society.

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

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