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Kyrgyzstan: Former Prime Minister's Opposition Group Making Waves

Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Feliks Kulov (file photo) (RFE/RL) March 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The recently established United Front For A Worthy Future For Kyrgyzstan was founded just two weeks ago but is wasting no time in criticizing the government.

Led by former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, the opposition movement is making a number of demands on the government, including a call for an early presidential election.

On February 27, a ceremony was held to open the new movement's headquarters in Bishkek. Some of the leaders of the United Front, like former Osh Governor Anvar Artykov, spoke to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service about the new movement.

"Kulov knows the secrets, he knows how at the very start Bakiev's team defined what advantages it could derive for itself...I think that Kulov...should tell these things to the people."

HIPC Controversy

"The Kyrgyz government has officially decided not to join the [World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC)] program," he said. "But the ideas of the HIPC are still there. Our authorities are working on [selling our] natural resources, our water, and our energy. That's why I say if the authorities will continue their policies through 2010, Kyrgyzstan will lose its statehood."

There was fierce opposition to Kyrgyzstan entering the HIPC program for reasons that Artykov hinted at and also because of national pride, as Kyrgyzstan would have been the first of the former Soviet republics to formally admit that it is poverty stricken and needs outside help to deal with its debts. But the government officially rejected a proposal to enter the program last month.

Former parliament speaker Mukar Cholponbaev, the leader of the Patriotic Movement for the Salvation of Kyrgyzstan and also a member of the United Front, repeated one of the new movement's most sensational demands.

"The main issues discussed today were what this new movement is going to do, what issues will it raise, and how it will work, etc," he said. "First of all, after the new constitution was signed on December 30 the president's powers were strengthened, and secondly there are many new political demands in the country. [For these reasons we think] the president should hold a new election."

New Presidential Election

An early presidential election is one of the most controversial demands of the United Front. Bakiev was elected less than two years ago after massive demonstrations chased President Askar Akaev from office.

There was an agreement between Bakiev and Kulov that the latter would not run for the presidency and in exchange would be named prime minister after Bakiev's victory in the presidential election. That led to the formation of the so-called "tandem."

Kulov and his government resigned at the end of December but Bakiev almost immediately proposed Kulov for the post of prime minister again. Parliament rejected Kulov twice and Bakiev then dropped Kulov's candidacy.

Now Kulov speculated that some lawmakers may have been paid to vote against him. Kulov also said in an interview on February 28 in the newspaper "Delo No." that First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov admitted to him and President Bakiev that he paid $300,000 in order to be included in the current government.

Bribes For Posts?

Almaz Atambaev, the leader of Social Democratic Party, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Kulov's accusations bring "shame" to Kyrgyzstan. He asked that if Kulov knew Usenov paid a bribe to receive his post, why wasn't that information made public when Kulov was prime minister.

"In general, it's a great shame for Kyrgyzstan," he said. "This information damages the country's image very much. But I can't say whether it's true or not true. Of course, if Kulov would have raised this problem when he was still in the [government], it would have been better. It would be better if he would fight against it, not just speculate."

Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister and current opposition leader, told RFE/RL that she cannot support Kulov until he tells the whole truth about Bakiev's inner circle.

"Kulov knows the secrets, he knows how at the very start Bakiev's team defined what advantages it could derive for itself," she said. "I think that Kulov, as a person who says he knows about [Bakiev's family] business and corrupt methods [of governing], should tell these things to the people."

The United Front has attracted parliament members like Melis Eshimkanov, Kubatbek Baibolov, and former speaker Omurbek Tekebaev. The Ar-Namys (Dignity) party that Kulov founded in 1999 is also a part of the United Front.

Claims Of Persecution

Emil Aliev is a leader of Ar-Namys. He told RFE/RL that there are many others who support the new opposition movement but are hesitant to reveal themselves because they fear retribution from the authorities.

"Many people can't join us openly, because the authorities started their persecution campaign already," he said. "That's why we have decided not to [declare] the names of people who have joined us. For instance, state TV and radio channels and newspapers close to [the government], have started to spread bad information about Kulov and some of the people around him."

This is not the first time Kulov has left the government and gone to the opposition.

In 1999, Kulov resigned as Bishkek mayor and formed Ar-Namys. But he was soon facing charges of abuse of office dating back to his time in previous governments.

Kulov was later convicted of those charges and was in jail in March 2005 when President Akaev was chased from power. He was quickly released and the charges against him dropped.

In November, lawmaker Dooronbek Sadyrbaev requested that the Prosecutor-General's Office reopen the criminal investigation against Kulov, a request the government may consider if Kulov's group continues to gain popularity.

(Venera Djumataeva of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)

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