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Kyrgyzstan: President Refuses To Meet With Slain Candidate's Supporters

Rysbek Akmatbaev, seen at a rally in his support on 31 March (RFE/RL) President Kurmanbek Bakiev was today due to meet with supporters and relatives of Rysbek Akmatbaev, an alleged criminal kingpin who was running for a seat in Kyrgyzstan's parliament before he was shot dead last week. But Akmatbaev's supporters were received, instead, by acting State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov. The meeting came amid rallies by Akmatbaev supporters and demands for some top politicians to resign.

PRAGUE, May 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Bakiev did not meet with the small delegation of Akmatbaev supporters, who were disappointed at not speaking to the president and refused to talk to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service after their meeting.

Esengul Omuraliev, the Iskyk-Kul regional governor, who was present at the meeting, said: "They put forward seven demands. One of them is that the Prosecutor-General's Office conduct an investigation into the death of Rysbek Akmatbaev."

Akmatbaev accused Prime Minister Kulov of complicity in his brother's death last year. Reports say Akmatbaev helped to organize subsequent rallies in Bishkek for protesters to demand Kulov's resignation.

Anti-Kulov Protests

It is not the first meeting between Akmatbaev's supporters and government officials.

Late on May 13, Omuraliev and lawmaker Kubanychbek Isabekov met with protesters who on May 12 blocked the road from the capital, Bishkek, to Balykchy, Akmatbaev's hometown in the Issyk-Kul region. Protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov.

Following the meeting, protesters sent a letter to Bakiev demanding an independent inquiry into the Akmatbaev killing.

Akmatbaev, 45, was a well-known figure in Kyrgyzstan. He was gunned down in the village of Kokzhar, on the outskirts of Bishkek, while leaving a mosque on May 10.

Political Motivation?

Authorities say Akmatbaev's killing was the result of a fight between different criminal gangs. Deputy Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliev said the killer fled to neighboring Kazakhstan. Akmatbaev's supporters insist the murder was politically motivated and say Akmatbaev's intention to become a political figure was the real reason behind the assassination.

Some observers agree, saying there are many people who are afraid of Akmatbaev's possible political stance on some issues.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, a relative of Akmatbaev and the leader of the Erkindik (Freedom) political party, is one of them. "I believe those who issued a political order [to kill Akmatbaev] knew perfectly well that if Rysbek Akmatbaev would come to the Joghorku Kenesh [Kyrgyzstan's parliament], he would expose [them]," he said.

Yet Akmatbaev was also a controversial figure. He was a fugitive from the law under the government of former President Askar Akaev, as he was sought by authorities for the involvement in a triple homicide. He returned home after the change of political leadership -- reportedly agreeing to face criminal charges on condition that he would not be jailed pending his trial.

But new charges emerged against Akmatbaev in connection with the death in 2003 of Khavaji Zaurbekov, the brother-in-law of an ethnic Chechen criminal boss. Akmatbaev was eventually acquitted.

Big In Balykchy

Akmatbaev won 79 percent of the vote in an April 9 parliamentary by-election in his hometown of Balykchy, filling a seat that was held by his brother Tynychbek, a parliament deputy who died mysteriously while negotiating to end a prison riot in October. Kulov's opponents claim the prison riot highlighted purported links between the prime minister and an alleged criminal figure known as Aziz Batukaev.

The Central Election Commission refused to award Rysbek Akmatbaev a parliamentary seat, saying that an ongoing murder investigation and the criminal trial against him prevented it from doing so. Commission Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov later claimed Akmatbaev had threatened to kill him unless he declared him the winner of the vote.

Akmatbaev accused Kulov of complicity in his brother's death last year -- a charge that the prime minister denied. Reports say Akmatbaev helped to organize subsequent rallies in Bishkek for protesters to demand Kulov's resignation.

Blaming The PM

Topchubek Turgunaliev, who is a former father-in-law of Tynychbek Akmatbaev, opposes Kulov. He told RFE/RL that he believes Kulov -- who has not commented on last week's killing -- had the most to gain from Rysbek Akmatbaev's death.

"[Rysbek] Akmatbaev and Batukaev, [Tynychbek] Akmatbaev, and Kulov," he said. "There was a real animosity between them. Batukaev -- with Kulov's assistance -- killed [Rysbek's] brother on October 20 last year. An innocent person, [Tynychbek] never had any ties with the criminal underworld. Now, they killed Rysbek Akmatbaev himself."

Issyk-Kul Governor Omuraliev said today that the pro-Akmatbaev rally in Balykchy was continuing and that protesters continue to demand Kulov's resignation.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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