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Kyrgyzstan: Anniversary Of Aksy Tragedy Marked

President Bakiev was the prime minister during the Aksy events (file photo) (RFE/RL) As many in Kyrgyzstan prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the "People's Revolution," another anniversary is being marked a little earlier. On 17 March, four years ago in the southern town of Aksy, a demonstration in support of a jailed politician turned violent and police killed at least five protesters. The incident sparked widespread protests across Kyrgyzstan and eventually led to the downfall of Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev's government. It was a turning point for Kyrgyzstan.

PRAGUE, March 17, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The mere mention of "Aksy" provokes a range of emotions in Kyrgyzstan. Most agree it was a tragedy, perhaps the worst Kyrgyzstan has known since it became independent in late 1991. Others may add that Aksy was a dress rehearsal for last year's revolution that ousted President Askar Akaev. But for some, the matter is still not settled and for the country's new president -- Kurmanbek Bakiev -- it represents one of the darker chapters in his life.

The Events

Protests started in Aksy in January 2002, shortly after the local representative in parliament, Azimbek Beknazarov, was detained on charges of abuse of office. On March 17, several thousand people gathered in the Aksy district to protest the detention. Demonstrators threw stones at police who arrived. The police fired on the crowd, killing four people. Another person was killed the next day and yet another man died of injuries he received during the clashes.

The numerous questions that remain about Aksy -- why it happened and who was responsible -- are just another issue on the list of problems Bakiev and his government face.

At the time, the head of the local criminal investigation department, Alikhan Rakishev, said police were armed but did not start the violence.

"There were four [police] who shot in the air," Rakishev said. "No one was fired at; maybe some ricochets hit people. Everything was done [by the police] within the boundaries of the law, in self-defense. They shot in the air. If [the police] had not had guns they would have been killed. The first shots came from the crowd."

Authorities upheld this version for days even as protests spread. A video emerged at the start of April that clearly showed the police had fired at the protesters. Demonstrators blocked the key Bishkek-Osh highway connecting the northern and southern parts of the country and officials in Bishkek warned that the country was on the brink of civil war.

On May 22, Prime Minister Bakiev resigned. Several local officials were later jailed for their part in Aksy, but a higher court later freed them on appeal.

No Justice?

Many in Kyrgyzstan still feel those responsible for ordering the shooting were never punished. Akaev, the man who was president at the time of the Aksy events, was chased from power last March in the People's Revolution. The man now leading the country is former Prime Minister Bakiev.

On March 15, parliament member and leader of the opposition party Asaba Beknazarov spoke about a renewed investigation into Aksy.

"Today, the people in power, in law-enforcement bodies and the White House, are the same who were working under [former President] Akaev when Aksy happened," he said. "There is a proverb that says 'One raven won't peck out the eyes of another raven.'"

Already Investigated

But the chairman of the commission for human rights in the presidential apparatus, Tursunbek Akun, said Beknazarov had his chance to look into the Aksy events last year when he served as acting prosecutor general after Bakiev came to power.

"I can't say that [President] Bakiev isn't at fault to a certain degree," Akun said. "He had some relationship to the Aksy events. But when he became president he told Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov to put aside all other activities and focus on investigating the Aksy investigation. Now Bakiev says that unfortunately the investigation is not completed because Beknazarov was looking at other matters and didn't finish the Aksy case, despite the fact the president told him to take care of that first."

Akun's support for Bakiev may not impress everyone in Kyrgyzstan. Since becoming president, Bakiev has been largely unable to fulfill key campaign promises of alleviating poverty and fighting corruption. There is a feeling among some in Kyrgyzstan that the new leadership is no better than the one ousted last March. The numerous questions that remain about Aksy -- why it happened and who was responsible -- are just another issue on the list of problems Bakiev and his government face.

(Naryn Idinov and Ainura Asankojoeva of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

The Tulip Revolution

The Tulip Revolution

ONE YEAR AGO: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's archive of coverage of Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution from the beginning, including biographical sketches of the key players and photo galleries of the demonstrations.

See RFE/RL's special review of the March 2005 Kyrgyz events:

Questions Remain About March 24 'Revolution' (Part I)

Did Revolution Sow The Seeds Of Democracy? (Part II)

Was 'Revolution' A Worthy Successor To Rose And Orange? (Part III)

See also:

Reporter's Notebook -- Witness To The Uprising

THE COMPLETE KYRGYZSTAN: To view an archive of all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kyrgyzstan, click here.