The protesters broke into the government building to demand that businessman Urmatbek Baryktabasov be registered as a presidential candidate in the upcoming 10 July poll. Kyrgyz authorities have denied Baryktabasov registration because they say they have proof he is a citizen of neighboring Kazakhstan. The unrest underscores the high tensions reigning in Kyrgyzstan less than a month before the upcoming presidential vote.
Some 1,000 people demanding the registration of Urmatbek Baryktabasov in next month's vote swept aside some 50 police officers and 20 National Guardsmen who had been patrolling the Kyrgyz government building in central Bishkek and broke into the building on the morning of 17 June.
Hundreds of other protesters were standing outside the building, known as the White House, shouting slogans in Baryktabasov's support. Most of them were young men in their late teens and early twenties.
Officials fled the building. Reports say interim President and front-runner in the upcoming presidential vote Kurmanbek Bakiev was not inside.Official Reaction
The authorities were quick to react to the 17 June protest.
Kyrgyzstan's interim Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov said riot police were immediately ordered to recapture the White House.
"They must know that we will not tolerate plundering taking place in Bishkek," Sutalinov told journalists on 17 June. "We've taken steps in order to put the Interior Ministry personnel on alert. To assist the police, we will set up special groups that will patrol Bishkek all day long."
When some 1,000 riot police and troops arrived at the protest site, they sealed off the building. Reports say the police and troops were not carrying firearms, but were equipped with riot shields and truncheons.
RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondents were at the scene. They reported that police used tear gas and beat up some protesters, and that protesters were throwing stones at police.
Shortly after, the protesters ran out of the building and escaped down nearby streets.
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that there are also protests in Karakol, the administrative center of the eastern region from which Baryktabasov hails.
The electoral commission announced that seven candidates had been officially registered to take part in the 10 July presidential poll, including front-runner Bakiev. They refused to allow Baryktabasov's registration, arguing that he had become a Kazakh citizen in the 1990s.
Abdraimov Tuigunaly, Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), told RFE/RL on 17 June that authorities have proved Baryktabasov's Kazakh citizenship:
"We have a paper from the Directorate of the Immigration Police in [the Kazakh capital] Astana, we have an official communication with a "live" [official] stamp from the Information Center of the Interior Ministry of Kazakhstan in Almaty and from Jambul [ southern Kazakh city, also known as Taras], a copy of a so-called Form One with a photo which is filled when obtaining a [new] passport. Everywhere it's stated that Baryktabasov, Urmatbek Askarbekovich, had received citizenship of Kazakhstan, that he is a citizen of Kazakhstan, and the number of his passport is such and such."
Baryktabasov has denied he has Kazakh citizenship and filed an appeal in court. On 17 June, the Birinchi May District Court in Bishkek started hearing the appeal against the CEC's decision.
The 17 June unrest underscores the high tensions reigning in Kyrgyzstan less than a month before the 10 July presidential vote. The election was called after a March uprising ousted longtime Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev.Violent Trend
Violence broke out earlier, on 13 June, in the southern city of Osh, when a large group of market traders protesting against wealthy businessman and parliament Deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev's economic activity broke into his premises in the hotel Alai demanding fair market prices. The hotel security guards opened fire wounding seven, two seriously.
On 10 June, a lawmaker who owned the second-largest car market in Kyrgyzstan was shot dead in central Bishkek.
Michael Hall, the Bishkek-based director of the International Crisis Group's Central Asia Project, told RFE/RL that the Kyrgyz authorities' reaction to the 17 June protest was robust. He said the authorities have apparently decided that citizens' rights to protest do not include storming government buildings.
"Right, I think that was definitely part of it, I think, quite simply the fact, this was not a confrontation taking place outside the hotel in Osh," Hall said. "This was actually the group seizing, attempting to seize control of the central building of the government in the center of Bishkek where the attention is focused much now. I think this definitely played a very large role in the strength of the response that we saw."
Some reports allege the protesters were paid. The Birge youth movement, which supports the interim government, distributed a report saying some protesters were promised 100-200 soms ($2.50-5.00 dollars) for their participation.
Interim Interior Minister Sutalinov also said protesters "were bought."
"These people congregated [near the government's headquarters] for money," Sutalinov said. "They did not come to defend ideas. They were all bought. If they had come to defend ideas, they wouldn't have fled, true? No one will support these adventurous actions."
Hall says there are conflicting reports about individuals or groups using their financial resources to build "street power."
"I think certainly that is a factor," Hall said. "I think the ability of people to rally crowds to their support to a very large extent does depend on their financial capabilities. I've heard the same rumors that people who were in the crowd today had been paid off in varying amounts. On the other hand, some people I spoke to absolutely denied that there's been any kind of pay off, [they said] that they were genuinely here to support their candidate. But I think it does go to show that yes, a very large amount of political power now is being wielded in the street. We've seen it in Osh, we saw it in Kara-Suu and we're seeing it here, as well, that really the power struggle largely between certain individuals in the country and certain interests in the country is increasingly being played out in the streets. And I think that is a very dangerous situation."
Hall says that tensions could rise further if rival interest groups continue to turn to street power to demonstrate they have public support ahead of the vote.See also:
Violence On Rise As Election Nears
Analysis: The Long Wait For The Law
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