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Kyrgyzstan: Prison Riots, Protests, Parliament, And The Prime Minister

Protesters in Bishkek on 25 October (RFE/RL) Kyrgyzstan’s parliament met today to discuss what appears to be mounting chaos in the country. The deputies’ session follows prison riots in mid-October that led to the death of a lawmaker under mysterious circumstances. The incident sparked protests in Bishkek and Osh, with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the country’s prime minister, whom they have blamed for the death.

Prague, 25 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Kyrgyz parliament building has had a busy week.

Outside, hundreds of protesters spent a fourth straight day today calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov. Nearby, hundreds of Kulov supporters staged a counterprotest.

Inside, deputies gathered to discuss the latest crises to rock the country, appointing a seven-person team to investigate last week's murder of lawmaker Tynychbek Akmatbaev. He was the third parliamentary deputy to be killed in 2005.

Akmatbaev, the chairman of the parliamentary security committee, was shot dead last week during an inspection of a prison outside Bishkek. Circumstances remain unclear, but inmates at the prison managed to obtain weapons during his visit, starting the second riot at a Kyrgyz prison of the week and ultimately causing Akmatbaev's death.

Kulov himself went to the prison in an attempt to negotiate with inmates and convince them to hand over the lawmaker's body. But Ryspek Akmatbaev -- the brother of the slain lawmaker and the leader of this week's anti-Kulov protests -- told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he is convinced the prime minister and other government officials had a hand in his brother's death.

"Feliks Kulov [apparently] was against his [security] committee," Akmatbaev said. "He had asked him to give up the committee. My brother did not tell me about that. [My brother's] aides are telling me that now. It's too late now. Besides Feliks [Kulov], there are some other people responsible [for his death] -- [parliamentary] speaker [Omurbek] Tekebaev and Deputy Interior Minister Alymbai Sultanov."

Protesters first gathered in downtown Bishkek on 22 October, setting up tents and preparing for a sustained civil action to bring down the head of the government. On 23 October, protesters in Kyrgyzstan’s second city of Osh joined the call for Kulov’s resignation.

Tekebaev spoke yesterday with the anti-Kulov protesters, promising a thorough investigation into Akmatbaev’s killing. The same day, Kulov dismissed Sultanov from his Interior Ministry post.

At today's session of parliament, the topic of discussion was the status of the murder investigation -- not Kulov’s resignation. Speaker Tekebaev told deputies it was constitutionally not within the competence of the parliament to dismiss a prime minister.

“In our constitution and our [parliament's] regulations, it was explicitly written when we might officially appeal to the president on the issue of holding a no-confidence vote on the prime minister," Tekebaev said. "This might happen just once a year, when the prime minister reports [to parliament]. If we judge the government's activities to be poorly conducted, then we can appeal to the president after we vote on a motion of no confidence for the whole government."

It is unclear whether Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev will react to demonstrators' calls for Kulov's resignation. Kulov said on 22 October that he would leave office if it was the president's will. But Kulov also warned protesters to obey the law and refrain from causing public instability, and he ordered law-enforcement agencies to strengthen their presence at the protests.

Today, Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov said authorities were seeking peaceful and legal means to resolve the protesters’ demands, but warned that he would not allow matters to get out of control.

“If constructive means do not lead to reaching genuine results, there is sufficient force and means [to ensure] that if a situation arises where there is no other way out, adequate means will be taken in the name of maintaining order,” Niyazov said.

Observers say the mounting chaos in the country is a reflection of an ongoing battle between the new Kyrgyz leadership and entrenched criminal groups who enjoyed relative impunity while former President Askar Akaev was in power. All three parliamentary deputies killed since the Tulip Revolution in March were believed to have ties to organized crime.

Investigations into their deaths have revealed the possibility of ties between the government and Kyrgyz underworld. Following the murder of deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev in September, Bakiev, speaking to parliament, claimed there were deputies who were close to organized crime in the country.

"The fact that criminal elements have merged with law enforcement agencies is not news to anybody," Bakiev said. "You all know this perfectly well, too. Among those sitting here are people who know perfectly well about it, who know who is connected to whom and how they are connected."

Ryspek Akmatbaev, the brother of the lawmaker slain last week, is also widely alleged to have criminal ties. Some see his current protest as an effort by organized-crime groups to clarify boundaries with the new government.

Bakiev, with Kulov's support, has said battling corruption would be among his main priorities. Recent events in Kyrgyzstan indicate that battle could be long and violent.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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