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Kyrgyzstan: Authorities Counter Vote Protests With Detentions

Ata-Meken supporters being detained in Bishkek on December 21 (RFE/RL) The detention of opposition protesters is continuing in Kyrgyzstan along with protests against the December 16 parliamentary elections and a ruling that excludes the leading opposition party from parliament.

Meanwhile, deputies elected in that vote met for the first time and adjourned after just 90 minutes to avoid providing a lightning rod for opposition-led protests outside the parliament building and around the country. Opposition groups continue to reject both the vote results and a decision to exclude the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Socialist Party from parliament despite its second-place finish nationally.

Ata-Meken is calling on its supporters to stage demonstrations around the country starting December 24, the day the new parliament is expected to reconvene to choose a speaker.

The Central Election Commission announced on December 19 that the Ak-Jol Erdlik (Best Path Popular) Party, which President Kurmanbek Bakiev created in mid-October, won 71 seats of the 90 seats in parliament, with the remaining 19 seats split between the opposition Social Democratic Party (11 seats) and the pro-Bakiev Communist Party (eight seats).

Authorities in the capital have responded to public displays of outrage by detaining demonstrators, rights activists, NGO officials, and journalists. Police took about 30 people into custody today as those individuals attempted to stage a protest in downtown Bishkek. Reports said 10 of those detained were Ata-Meken supporters and the others were from the "I Don't Believe" group that has been protesting election results since December 17.

Police had already detained other "I Don't Believe" activists earlier in the week. Sixteen people, including "I Don't Believe" protesters and other activists, were sentenced in a Bishkek court on December 20. Dinara Oshurahunova, who heads the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that a Birinchi May district court handed down mostly five-day jail sentences to those five defendants. "The [police] are putting them into separate cells," Oshurahunova said. "Some of the girls are crying."

Oshurahunova said Civil Society Against Corruption Chairwoman Toleikan Ismailova was sentenced to seven days in jail, and alleged that because police "struck" Association of Nongovernmental and Nonprofit Organizations Chairwoman Toktaiym Umetalieva when they detained her, she was simply fined 700 Kyrgyz soms (about $20) and then freed.

Protests have for the most part been minor affairs, possibly because of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. But opposition hunger strikes continue in Bishkek, Osh, and Jalal-Abad, while another protest is ongoing in the northern Issyk-Kul region.

The U.S. State Department released a statement late on December 20 criticizing some aspects of the elections, including "uncertainty over election rules, widespread vote count irregularities and exaggerations in voter turnout, [and] late exclusions from voter lists." The U.S. statement follows criticism from other groups -- most notably monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who called the election a step backward for Kyrgyzstan.

Ata-Meken leaders have filed a court case in Bishkek in an effort to annul the decision by the Central Election Commission that kept Ata-Meken out of parliament over its apparent failure to meet a 0.5-percent local threshold in the elections, despite finishing with 8 percent of the national vote.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, a long-time opposition leader in Kyrgyzstan who sided with President Bakiev in March 2005 after authoritarian President Askar Akaev was chased from power, was critical of Bakiev and the election results in comments to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"The parliament that is sitting now has suppressed democracy," Turgunaliev said. "It is obvious to all that the authorities have returned to the old methods. This new parliament is a 'pocket parliament.' We said the same about the previous parliament, but it is even more true about the current parliament."

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev and Ulan Eshmatov of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)