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Kyrgyzstan: Southern Governor's Challenge Reaches Bishkek

(RFE/RL) The embattled governor of a southern Kyrgyz province emerged declaring victory after a meeting last night with the country's president. But Jalal-Abad Governor Jusupbek Jeenbekov does not appear to out of the political woods yet, despite a public show of force in his home province in the south of the country. Hundreds of Jeenbekov supporters protested yesterday over his announced recall by the central government, and extra police were out to discourage trouble. The scene highlights fears of the repurcussions when residents of Kyrgyzstan's restive southern region challenge decisions in the capital Bishkek.

Prague, 24 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- President Kurmanbek Bakiev felt sufficiently confident after his meeting with Jeyenbekov to leave for a scheduled visit to St. Petersburg.

But the brinksmanship of Jalal-Abad governor looks to have paid off -- at least for now.

Jeenbekov claimed to have won his standoff after his return from meetings in Bishkek. He said President Bakiev has "ordered" him to remain in his post as governor, and the AKIpress news agency quoted Jeenbekov as saying he remains "acting" governor.

The details of their conversation have not been confirmed. And a presidential spokesman, Dosali Esenaliev, said that Jeenbekov has agreed to take another position, although he declined to say what that position would be.

AKIpress also reported that the man chosen by the president to replace Jeenbekov -- Talas Governor Iskenderbek Aidaraliev -- remains in his post. That news is perhaps welcome in Talas Province, where some residents reacted to news of Aidaraliev's departure with protests. Some organized an informal assembly at which they declared him "the people's governor."

The Battle So Far

The trouble began with the announcement on 20 January that Jalal-Abad Governor Jeenbekov would become governor of the northwestern Talas Province. Jeenbekov and his supporters quickly pointed out that the governor -- who took office after last year's revolution -- was elected by the province's residents.

That Jeenbekov was dissatisfied with the decision to transfer him from his native Jalal-Abad was immediately evident on 20 January, when the news broke and he made these comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service: "For me it was a morale blow that they didn't inform me [of the decision], didn't tell me, and suddenly announced I was out. It was a blow to me, but I'll maintain my composure, keep calm, and worry about the future of Kyrgyzstan."

Jeenbekov told reporters he refused to leave his post in Jalal-Abad or to calm his disgruntled supporters. Demonstrations lasted through 23 January but appeared today to have abated.

Jeenbekov's indignation was echoed in comments of supporters who came out to demonstrate on his behalf. One woman even made it a point to attach her name to her plea, so that President Bakiev would have no doubt who was speaking: "President Kurmanbek Bakiev, we ask you to leave [Governor] Jeenbekov in his post. If not, we will raise the people. That's it! Sultanova, Kulponai."

Revolution, Followed By Unrest

The southern regions of Kyrgyzstan has known few days of peace and calm since they served as a powder keg for the unrest that ousted the former regime in March of last year. A key businessman and member of parliament was killed in the summer, and Uzbek refugees fleeing violence in neighboring Uzbekistan crossed into southern Kyrgyzstan -- drawing accusations from the Uzbek government that southern Kyrgyzstan was providing a haven for Islamic militants. The bazaar at the border town of Kara-Suu has been the scene of rioting and disorder on several occasions.

President Bakiev is likely to tread lightly in southern Kyrgyzstan. Unlike the northern part of the country, which was mainly developed and populated after the tsarist conquests of the late 19th century, the south represents a broad mix of peoples and ancient cities. It is also a stronghold of Islam and, since 1990, has seen some of the worst violence to afflict Central Asia.

Increasingly, it is also home to President Bakiev's strongest critics, Governor Jeenbekov among them.

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