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Kyrgyzstan: President Debates Opposition Critics On Television

President Kurmanbek Bakiev (file photo) (AFP) Top Kyrgyz government officials led by President Kurmanbek Bakiev met today on television with leaders of opposition groups to discuss the political course of the country. Tensions have been rising in Kyrgyzstan lately, fueled by a growing perception the government is not fulfilling promises to implement needed reforms. There are also concerns about the influence of criminal groups on the government. With that as a backdrop, Bakiev and his team took to the air today to try to ease the situation.

PRAGUE, April 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Sitting beside President Bakiev during the talks with opposition leaders were Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and parliament speaker Marat Sultanov. On the opposition's side were former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, parliament members Kubatbek Baibolov and Melis Eshimkanov, and several other political party and NGO leaders.

The televised talks took place one day after the Union of Democratic Forces -- compromised of some 50 political parties and NGOs -- established a special headquarters to organize an opposition rally.

There have been almost nonstop protests in Kyrgyzstan since Bakiev came to power in March 2005. At first, protests were limited to calling on the government to recognize the plight of those ignored before Askar Akaev was ousted from office in what some call the People's Revolution that March. But increasingly protests are targeting Bakiev and Kulov. Bakiev said today the protests would not distract him from his chosen course.

Speaking Defiantly

"If someone thinks it's so easy to shake the president -- who has been working for less than one year -- with rallies and so on, they will all fail," he said.

And the Kyrgyz president portrayed himself as a man who knows how the people in his country feel and that most are appreciate of what Bakiev and his government are doing.

"I know not only what those people who organize all these [protests] think but also what common people think: old and young people, women, etc. I know it very well," he added. "And they know perfectly well what I am doing and what the government is going today to improve life in Kyrgyzstan."

Pressed on the delays that have occurred in calling for a referendum on constitutional reforms, Bakiev turned the table on former parliamentary speaker Tekebaev.

President Blames The Accuser

"Why didn't we start the constitutional reform immediately?" Bakiev said. "A constitutional council was established hastily at the initiative of the former parliament speaker [Tekebaev], who is sitting here now. And what was the result of that? A long discussion and many disparate opinions."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service spoke with Tekebaev and Baibolov after the program. Tekebaev indicated he was not satisfied with Bakiev's remarks.

"I am not satisfied with the outcome of this meeting because [President Kurmanbek Bakiev] should have explicitly responded to those real public issues and should have presented his own specific proposals and ways of resolving [issues]," Tekebaev said. "I thought he would launch new directions of reforms. However, regrettably, he confined himself to whitewashing [his policy] and accusing some [opposition] movements."

Uninformed President?

Baibolov said he felt Bakiev was poorly informed about the issues in society being discussed.

"I got the impression that [Bakiev] is unaware, to a large extent, of the real state of affairs," he added. "Perhaps he is not informed about everything. There is no real growth in the economy. Neither statistics nor the government denies that. There is no reform under way. I talked about it in my statement. There is no reform of administrative and territorial division. There is neither administrative reform, nor judicial reform, nor tax reform under way. Business is still not free, [the situation is] as it was before. The courts still do not provide due justice."

The televised talks took place one day after the Union of Democratic Forces -- compromised of some 50 political parties and NGOs -- established a special headquarters to organize an opposition rally. They hope the April 29 rally will gather more than 10,000 people.

The union is also calling for the dismissal of several top government officials, among them the head of the National Security Service, Tashtemir Aitbaev; the head of presidential administration, Usen Sydykov; State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov; and Prosecutor-General Kambaraaly Kongantiev.

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

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