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Kyrgyzstan: Public, Politicians Give Positive Reaction To New Premier

Prime Minister Azim Isabekov (file photo) (RFE/RL) January 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service asked several people what they think about new Prime Minister Azim Isabekov, who became Kyrgyzstan's 11th prime minister when he was confirmed by parliament on January 29.

The 46-year-old former Komsomol (communist youth organization) leader was the head of then-Governor Kurmanbek Bakiev's administration in the northern Chu Province, his native region. He later worked in Bakiev's government administration when Bakiev was prime minister from 2001-02. His most recent position was as minister of agriculture, water resources, and processing industries.

Isabekov cannot hope to please everyone in Kyrgyzstan and he may find it difficult to please anyone in such a political environment.

What do people in Kyrgyzstan think about Isabekov? Many people to seem to hold fairly favorable views of him, though many others know little about their new prime minister.

Praise From Acquaintances

Almaz Atambaev, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, was complimentary when asked about Isabekov.

"Well, this young man is from my village, he is one of my young brothers," he said. "So far, there are no bad words or rumors about him. However, overall, this was right for President [Bakiev] to make a step forward towards youth, towards new [political] figures without being stuck with [Feliks] Kulov."

Isabekov was put forth as a candidate after the nomination of veteran Kyrgyz politician Feliks Kulov was rejected twice by parliament.

When announcing on January 26 that Bakiev had forwarded Isabekov's nomination to parliament, deputy speaker Erkin Alymbekov was receptive.

"The candidacy of Azim Isabekov is acceptable to this [political] side and that [political] side in as much as he is a low-profile prime minister," he said.

Bakiev's 'Yes' Man?

But the former governor of Osh region, opposition politician Anvar Artykov (an ethnic Uzbek), said Isabekov is a political unknown and not likely to oppose any decisions made by Bakiev.

"I don't know [Azim Isabekov] properly," Artykov said. "He is not from prominent figures in the political scene [in Kyrgyzstan]. [Who knows] how he will work, how he might end up? But this is for sure, that he will work as a person faithful to [President Kurmanbek] Bakiev. I can't share such opinions [about how] he might carry out independent government policy."

Kalysbek Kakibaev grew up with Isabekov in their village of Arashan. Kakibaev said Isabekov was a good student and a moral person.

"[Azim Isabekov] is a good young man," he said. "He is humane. He graduated the secondary school with good marks. He can work with people. He lives his life with integrity."

But other Arashan villagers said Bakiev would have been better off proposing other candidates for the prime minister's post, such as opposition deputy Temir Sariev or former minister Almaz Atambaev.

"Both Temir Sariev and [Almaz] Atambaev could work normally as prime minister," one villager said. "But they are in the opposition, that is why [President] Bakiev did not want to nominate them. [Azim Isabekov] is not in the opposition, and for that reason [Bakiev] nominated him. All the people know about that."

Appealing To Youth?

Opposition leader Atambaev said Bakiev's choice helped the government reach out to Kyrgyzstan's young people. On the streets of Bishkek some young people in the Kyrgyz capital commented on Isabekov.

"He seems to be a nice man," one man said. "I've seen him on TV. Isabekov's answers to about 30 deputies' questions were okay, he wasn't confused."

Another said: "I've heard for the first time on TV about Isabekov just yesterday, I didn't hear anything good about him before."

A young woman said, "We don't know anything about him so we don't trust him." Said one man: "He is from Bakiev's staff. That means we'll have one-family rule [in Kyrgyzstan]."

Isabekov has a lot of work awaiting him. Kyrgyzstan has faced one political crisis after another since massive demonstrations in the wake of parliamentary elections chased long-time President Askar Akaev from power in March 2005.

Furthermore, the country's economy remains weak, unemployment among youth -- particularly in Kyrgyzstan's part of the Ferghana Valley -- makes for a fertile breeding ground for banned Islamic groups seeking new members, and political infighting in the Kyrgyz government has continually delayed reform efforts. As an example, the process of entering the World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries program is facing stiff resistance from many in Kyrgyzstan.

Isabekov cannot hope to please everyone in Kyrgyzstan and he may find it difficult to please anyone in such a political environment.

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

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