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Kyrgyzstan: President's Family Ties Invite Unflattering Comparisons

President Kurmanbek Bakiev (file photo) (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, September 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power 18 months ago after demonstrators chased his predecessor from office. Those events were hailed by many in the West as an expression of the will of the people -- the last of the so-called "color revolutions" and an expansion of democracy. But President Bakiev now faces criticism reminiscent of the old regime -- including that he has packed senior state positions with family members.

A special commission set up by the Kyrgyz parliament concluded on September 21 that the country's security service was involved in deliberately planting heroin in the suitcase of opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev. Tekebaev was detained on September 6 when he landed in Poland and customs officials there found the drugs in his luggage.

The man accused of ordering the drugs to be put in Tekebaev's suitcase was the deputy chief of the security service happens to be President Bakiev's brother, Janysh.

Sibling Alliance?

The president has made no real secret of his brothers' successes -- or of their jobs as state officials. But the involvement of brother Janysh in this latest scandal led local media to note that brothers Marat and Adil work in Kyrgyz embassies abroad, and that brother Akhmat is a successful businessman.
"We didn't do such things in our family. My big brother [President Bakiev] and my parents didn't bring us up that way."

Entrepreneur Akhmat Bakiev defended his older brother, the president, in comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"I am not involved in personnel-policy issues, because it is prohibited to us," Akhmat Bakiev said. "If we were involved in the personnel policy, people would know. Otherwise, let's hear from anyone who can prove that [I]...gave an official position to anyone. We didn't do such things in our family. My big brother [President Bakiev] and my parents didn't bring us up that way -- we don't contradict our big brother. We were never involved in personnel policy or other important matters."

Deja Vu?

Protesters in February-March 2005 originally demonstrated against what they regarded as unfair elections. Underscoring their discontent was the fact that two children of then President Askar Akaev ran, and won, in those elections.

Akaev's wife, Mayram, had long asserted influence in national affairs -- running one of the biggest charity organizations in Kyrgyzstan and erecting a statue to her father in their hometown. Unflattering reports in opposition media suggested she actually told her husband how to run the country.

Many in the crowds that eventually chased Akaev from office said they did not want a family dynasty in Kyrgyzstan.

Shortly after Janysh Bakiev was implicated in opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev's detention in Poland, the president told parliament he would never favor private interests over those of his country.

"I would like to explicitly clarify, in front of the Kyrgyz nation and parliament, that I have never put my personal interests, or my family's interests, above state interests," President Bakiev said. "And I will not do so, even more so, as president."

Kyrgyzstan's parliament has devoted considerable attention to the Tekebaev scandal. On September 22, the legislature officially called for an investigation of Janysh Bakiev. Some deputies demanded from the start the recall of Marat and Adil Bakiev -- one the ambassador to Germany and the other an official at the Kyrgyz Embassy in China. Parliament quickly dropped that demand.

Appearance Of Nepotism

Aaron Rhodes is the executive director at the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). He says his organization is concerned over signs of nepotism in Kyrgyzstan little more than a year after Askar Akaev's long-standing administration fell.

"We're worried in the IHF about this, because there are signs of real instability in Kyrgyzstan, again," Rhodes says. "And the reasons for this instability are some of the same [reasons] that were under President Akaev. There's very widespread nepotism. Some people think it's even more egregious than was occurring under the previous regime. So you have family members of the most influential politicians occupying a lot of very powerful positions in government -- and in business, especially."

Others are worried, too. At a rally on April 29, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party warned of the emergence of a new dynasty. Almaz Atambaev said it looked like his countrymen had ousted the Akaevs in 2005 only to end up with the Bakievs.

'Nothing Has Changed'

"In the year since the revolution, we see that nothing has changed," Atambaev said. "We didn't stage the revolution of 24 March so that -- instead of one family -- we are now feeding and sustaining another family."

Some lawmakers still insist that the Bakiev brothers in the diplomatic corps should return to Kyrgyzstan. One such deputy is Azimbek Beknazarov, the leader of the opposition Asaba party. He addressed a crowd in the southern Aksy region on September 17.

"Kurmanbek Bakiev should stop practicing familial management," Beknazarov said. "He should invite back his brothers from official state positions within a 10-day deadline."

So far, brother Kanybek Bakiev -- who heads a village administration -- has largely escaped notice.

Brother Jusupbek Bakiev was a leading figure in the March 2005 events and was briefly the deputy director of Kyrgyzstan's Agency for Community Development and Investment. He resigned amid allegations of nepotism and died earlier this year.

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

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