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Kyrgyzstan: Violence On Rise As Election Nears

Kurmanbek Bakiev (file photo) Several people were wounded today when a crowd of some 200 stormed a hotel in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, in apparent protest against a lawmaker with a financial interest in the business. The incident is just the latest act of violence as the Central Asian state prepares to elect a successor to ousted President Askar Akaev. The country's acting president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, is to formally register today as a candidate for the 10 July vote. On 11 June, unidentified assailants burst into Bakiev's campaign headquarters, beating two guards. That incident followed the fatal shooting on 10 June of lawmaker Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev, an Akaev ally, in the capital Bishkek.

Prague, 13 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Kubanychbek Joldoshev, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, reported from the scene of the Osh hotel siege today that events had turned violent.

"I'm now hearing gunfire from Kalashnikovs. About 200 men, who earlier attempted to occupy the Hotel Alay, are now hiding near the premises. Ordinary people who live nearby are in a panic. They are running away and driving away quickly," Joldoshev reported.

The incident began with a group of men armed with wooden clubs forcing their way into the hotel before being repelled by security guards. The guards reportedly chased the group outside before firing their weapons into the air. Several people were reportedly injured in the incident.

The men storming the hotel were believed to be opponents of parliament deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev. It is not known whether the attack was politically motivated, although a demonstration was recently held in Kara-Suu to protest what they said were his corrupt financial dealings.

Erkinbaev was shot and slightly wounded in a previous attack in April.

On 11 June, an attack was made on the campaign headquarters of interim President Bakiev.
"If one wants to find out information about [politicians'] itinerary, movements, and address, one doesn't need to beat up guards." - Aalybek Akunov

In an interview yesterday with RFE/RL, Avazbek Atakhanov, a Bakiev spokesman, described the assault: "Last night [11 June], the Bishkek election campaign headquarters of Kyrgyzstan's acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev was attacked by unknown assailants. Two of Bakiev's guards were beaten. They are now in critical condition. The National Security Service of Kyrgyzstan has launched an investigation into the crime."

Bakiev is currently considered the favorite to win the 10 July vote, raising questions about whether the attack was linked to his political goals.

Officials say they believe the attack was politically motivated. The government press service alleged the assailants attacked the campaign headquarter guards in order to find out Bakiev's schedule, itinerary, and place of residence.

Aalybek Akunov, a professor of political science at the Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek, says he is skeptical about the alleged political motives. He told RFE/RL that tracking the plans of high-profile politicians does not require an attack on their headquarters.

"If one wants to find out information about [politicians'] itinerary, movements, and address, one doesn't need to beat up guards," Akunov said. "There are other ways to get this kind of information. There is some [artificiality] about this incident. Therefore, I wouldn't link it with politics."

Akunov dismisses suggestions the attack on Bakiev's headquarters may have been organized by the interim president's own team, in order to boost his popularity ahead of the election. He says it is more likely that Bakiev's guards got into a fight with passersby and then made up the story to explain their injuries.

Unless investigators prove otherwise, Akunov says, Bakiev would have no reason to stage such an incident. "Bakiev's rating is very high compared to the other candidates," he said. "Therefore, I don't think his team would resort to this kind of trick to increase his rating."

No explanation has yet been made regarding a third incident, the 10 June assassination of parliament deputy Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev. The reasons behind the Surabaldiev's assassination are not known.

Surabaldiev was widely suspected of having criminal ties. He was also one of Akaev's main supporters, and allegedly helped organize pro-government rallies on the day of Akaev's ouster, 24 March.

Lawmaker Kubatbek Baibolov told RFE/RL there are a number of possible motives in Surabaldiev's killing.

"There might be a number of different theories, starting from a dispute over property distribution and ending with politics," Baibolov said. "It is so far very hard to come to a single conclusion. It has had a negative impact on the image of the [Kyrgyz] parliament. It is getting dangerous. There were two attacks against deputies within the [last] month. This issue, of course, will be discussed [by parliament]."

The head of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, Tashtemir Aitbaev, on the day of the assassination told parliament there was no political motive, saying the killing was tied to "underworld disputes."

Last April, another deputy, Bayaman Erkinbaev, was shot and slightly wounded. He claimed at the time the attack was linked to his intention to run for president.

Akunov says he doubts either incident was politically motivated. "I wouldn't draw such a conclusion, because those two deputies [Surabaldiev and Erkinbaev] have long been known as wealthy businessmen, and there were allegations that they had criminal connections," Akunov said. "Therefore, it wouldn't be right to make any political conclusions. Maybe it was just criminal infighting. There is an investigation going on. It will uncover the real reasons."

Five presidential candidates were registered on 11 June. Six others who have declared their intention to run for president -- including Bakiev -- have until 6 p.m. Bishkek time today to register.

One of the registered candidates, former Interior Minister Keneshbek Duyshebaev, asked the head of the Central Election Commission on 11 June to provide all candidates with personal guards. He said their personal security has become a pressing issue since the Surabaldiev assassination.

See also:

Kyrgyz Parliamentarian Assassinated In Bishkek

More news and features about Kyrgyzstan