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1998 In Review: In Kyrgyzstan, Governments Come And Go

Prague 30 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev replaced two cabinets in 1998 -- in March and in December -- each time saying he was "improving" the government, and each time criticizing the old appointees for ineptitude. These shakeups led the list of major Kyrgyz news developments during 1998.

In December, Akayev said he had erred in March. He said the government he named then was worse than the predecessor he had blamed.

In March, one day after Victor Chernomyrdin left office in Russia, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov resigned unexpectedly. The following day, Akayev appointed his chief-of-staff, Kubanychbek Jumaliev, as the new prime minister. He also changed several other cabinet members. He appointed diplomat Omar Sultanov head of the presidential administration.

Then, on December 10, a few days after Russian President Boris Yeltsin dismissed his chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, Akayev sacked Sultanov. Akayev's press service said the president removed Sultanov for being involved in what were called "political intrigues."

Two week later, President Akayev sacked JumAliyev and his entire cabinet, accusing it of incompetence and failed economic policies. Two days later, on December 25, he appointed a new prime minister, the former head of the State Property Fund, Jumabek Ibraimov. Akayev declared at a parliamentary session that a prime minister should not be involved in political games and should not have aspirations for the presidency.

In other major developments during the year:

Jumaliev's cabinet, appointed in March and April, immediately began to combat what officials termed "Wahhabism." Wahhabism is a variant of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and believed in some other countries to be an insidious Saudi export. There are leaders, most notably in Muslim-majority nations from the former Soviet Union, who use the term to describe any religious opposition, and sometimes, any opposition.

The JumAliyev government arrested several alleged Wahhabists in April and accused them of religious extremism. Authorities released some and tried three in November and December. All three were foreigners. The court convicted and sentenced only one of them, Mahmud Kasarji. He got 14 years' imprisonment. However, his conviction was for forgery, possessing illegal weapons and demonstrating armed resistence to authorities.

In October, the head of a regional branch of the Security Ministry seized 700 tons of weapons that were allegedly being sent from Iran to Afghanistan's anti-Taliban northern alliance. The weapons had been marked and declared as humanitarian aid. A few weeks after the seizure, national officials fired the regional director and his staff, and ordered the seized weapons returned to Iran through Uzbekistan. The government has never explained.

Earlier in the year, in May, a truck carrying sodium cyanide used in gold mining plunged into the Barskoon River just upriver from the huge, pristine body of freshwater known as Issyk-Kul. The truck dumped almost two tons of the industrial poison into the river. Four people have died from poisoning, and about 5,000 people were hospitalized. The government and the Canadian Kumtor Operating Company, owners of the truck, have contended that little harm was done, dismissed criticism, and promised the equivalent of 1.6 million dollars in clean up and reparation.

Kyrgyzstan won membership in October in the World Trade Organization. A special governmental commission had been working on membership for about two years. In order to gain admission, the Kyrgyz parliament amended a number of laws at the request of the WTO. Kyrgyzstan is the first CIS-country to enter the WTO.

In October, President Akayev proposed constitutional amendments, which a national referendum approved. One amendment forbade the parliament from passing any law restricting freedom of the press. Another allowed private land ownership. Another appeared to diminish the power of parliament. In the referendum, the amendments were bunched together, with voters only given the choice of approving or opposing all of them as a package.

President Akayev, criticized for concentrating too much power in his own hands, announced on December 25, that the new Prime Minister, Jumabek Ibraimov, will have more power than did his predecessors.