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Kyrgyzstan: Thousands Demonstrate Against Government

Rally in Bishkek on April 29 (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, April 29, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of protesters have rallied in central Bishkek to show their discontent at President Kurmanbek Bakiev in the biggest protest since last year's uprising that brought down his predecessor, Askar Akaev.

The protesters carried signs and chanted slogans with the same message: "Down with corruption, down with thieves."

They're angry at what they see is organized crime's increasing influence over Kyrgyz politics. And they say it's high time Bakiev follows through on promised reforms and tackled crime and corruption.

One of the rally's organizers, Kubatbek Baibolov, accused the government of failing to meet the expectations of the people.

"Down with those who take bribes, down with those who are corrupt!" he said. "We're being accused of hindering the government's work. We perfectly understand that this government is just one year old and that it is impossible to change the people's lives in just one year. Yet, in one year it is still possible to give hope. But this government is ruining the people's hope."

Protesters Include Former Allies

There have been a series of protests since the March 2005 ouster of former President Akaev. But this is the biggest yet. It was organized by around 50 opposition political parties and nongovernmental organizations, and some estimates put the crowd at 10,000.

Prominent among them were some of Bakiev's former allies, men like Almazbek Atambaev, who resigned last week as minister of industry, trade, and tourism because of what he said was the government's failure to cope with crime, corruption, and nepotism.

He took aim at Bakiev for threatening earlier to use force if the rally turned violent. "We demand reform, we demand that the government think of the people, that it not drive people onto the squares, but that it drive out the thieves and the corrupt," he said. "[We demand] that it not say, 'I will use arms to defend the White House.' Instead they should be using arms to defend the people from criminals. Down with thieves and criminals!"

'Working For The Nation'

A short while later, those cheers turned to jeers and whistles, when Bakiev arrived to address the crowd. He said politicians claiming nothing has changed were "blind and shortsighted." And he said he was working to change things for the better.

Prime Minister Kulov and President Bakiev (right) address Bishkek rally

"We -- I, as president, and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, together with the government -- are working for the nation, for you!" Bakiev told the crowd. "We are working to improve people's lives, to provide job to the jobless. That is why our aim is a common one -- for you, for success, for peace! Let's wish a peaceful end to today's peaceful rally. I am always together with you! Thank you!"

The protest ended shortly afterward, when demonstrators read out their list of 12 demands.

But it might not be the last such rally: protesters gave the government a month to meet their demands. If they're not satisfied, they say they'll stage another rally, on May 27.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, with AP, AFP)

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.

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