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Kyrgyzstan: President Warns Parliament Over 'Course Of Confrontation'

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev (file photo) (RFE/RL) Kyrgyzstan's president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, appeared in parliament today for a surprise address to castigate lawmakers for their collective performance. Bakiev assured legislators that he has no desire to dissolve the parliament, but he demanded that they shape up and get back to the business of governing. It is just the latest of many political rifts in Kyrgyzstan that are sparking international concern over the country's stability. RFE/RL looks at the public feud between the president and the parliament, and the international community's hand-wringing over Central Asia.

PRAGUE, 3 February 2006 -- President Bakiev had strong words for lawmakers today, saying their bickering is hindering efforts to improve the situation in the country.

"We need a strong parliament, a strong legislative body, as never before," Bakiev said. "Instead, the parliament is turning into a place of political squabble, the source of an atmosphere of instability in the country."

He accused unnamed deputies of being interested primarily in using their legislative clout to further their own private agendas.

'Sleep In Peace'

"Quit your vodka-selling businesses -- by the way, it's against the law for members of parliament. Then you won't need bulletproof vests," Bakiev said. "Stop breaking the law. Shut down your businesses, legal or illegal. Stop fighting competitors using your authority as parliament deputies -- and sleep in peace."

Bakiev's unexpected challenge comes just weeks after a refusal by two provincial governors to submit to presidential transfer suggested central government control was slipping. It also comes one week after Prime Minister Feliks Kulov criticized the work of the police and security officials on 25 January, sparking a feud within the government. It has also led to accusations that parliament is proving to be an obstacle to government reform plans.

Bakiev raised that point in speech.

"In my meetings in the regions, I often have to answer the following question: 'Why is the parliament preventing the president and the parliament from doing their work? Why don't you dissolve it?' I hear such questions wherever I go," Bakiev said.

The president then left the parliament building as quickly as he had come.

Cautious Reaction

Parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev challenged lawmakers to respond to Bakiev's criticism.

"Dear deputies! This was no regular address to the parliament by the president. [The president's] address will not be debated and questioned. [But] the president raised important issues. Of course, we have to respond to those issues in accordance with facts and reality," Tekebaev said.

Deputy Melis Eshimkanov then invited his colleagues to reconsider parliament's role in governing. But Eshimkanov, a one-time presidential candidate who also owns the newspaper "Agym" (Stream), suggested that a small group of parliamentarians has given the institution a bad name.

"This parliament should define its position," Eshimkanov said. "Is the parliament needed at all? As [President Bakiev] told us: Perhaps parliament is becoming a destructive force. Perhaps we [should] talk about those five or six [lawmakers] who might be the destructive ones, as he said. It would be good, if we, the parliament, showed its faith and face."

Regional Instability?

The international community is keeping a close eye on events in Kyrgyzstan and the region. The popular revolution that toppled Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev 10 months ago sparked fears among the authoritarian administrations in the region of a sort of domino effect.

Those fears no doubt contributed to Uzbek President Islam Karimov's heavy-handed crackdown against a restive public in Andijon less than two months later, in mid-May.

U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte warned the Senate Intelligence Committee on 2 February of the problems facing Central Asia.

"Central Asia remains plagued by political stagnation and repression, rampant corruption, widespread poverty and widening socioeconomic inequalities, and other problems that nurture nascent radical sentiment and terrorism," Negroponte said.

He also warned of the dangers posed by instability in the region.

"In the worst, but not implausible case, central authority in one or more of these states [in Central Asia] could evaporate as rival clans or regions vie for power, opening the door to an expansion of terrorist and criminal activity on the model of failed states like Somalia and, when it was under Taliban rule, Afghanistan," Negroponte said.

Russian Interest

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried hard to prevent the West from making inroads in Central Asia -- pursuing closer relations in the region and reasserting political, economic, and military interests there.

Putin recently expressed backing for one of Central Asia's most widely criticized governments while warning that Russia would not stand idly by in the event of trouble.

In an omnibus news conference on 31 January, Putin justified Uzbek President Islam Karimov's heavy-handed crackdown against a restive public in Andijon in May, saying it helped avert further trouble in Central Asia.

"We don't need another Afghanistan in Central Asia, and we will act very carefully there," Putin said. "We don't need a revolution there. We need evolution that would lead to the consolidation of those [democratic] values you mentioned but that would prevent outbursts such as the one we witnessed in Andijon."

The ongoing problems in Kyrgyzstan, where stability has been scarce since the revolution in March, could be seen by some as bearing out Putin's warning. Many analysts now consider Kyrgyzstan the least stable country in a volatile region.