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Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Figure Faces Charges

Demonstrators in Kyrgyzstan have been protesting against violations in the parliamentary elections two weeks ago, particularly violations that denied a parliamentary seat to opposition figure Feliks Kulov. Kyrgyz authorities cracked down on the protests yesterday -- arresting the protestors and Kulov himself. RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier reports.

Prague, 23 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Feliks Kulov has been plagued by legal difficulties ever since he announced his intention to run for president late this year against incumbent Askar Akaev.

Kulov ran for a seat in parliament in the recent election, and international observers say he won the seat outright. Official election results, however, disagreed. A run-off election was held two weeks ago (March 12), and Kulov lost despite being a heavy favorite to win. International election observers have said the vote count was rigged, and residents of Kulov's district have been protesting daily since the run-off. The protests soon spread to the capital Bishkek.

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan acted Wednesday to remove the cause of the protests and to crush the demonstrations. National Security Ministry officials entered the Bishkek hospital where opposition party Ar-Narmys leader Feliks Kulov was receiving treatment and took Kulov into custody.

Later that day, the country's militia moved against the protesters in Talas, arresting up to 100 people and demolishing the yurts the protestors had been living in for the past ten days.

At a press conference today (Thursday), the National Security Ministry's Ikramidin Aitkulov, who was present at the arrest, said that Kulov was questioned before he was arrested.

"Yesterday on March 22, an order was carried out to place the accused, Feliks Sharshanbaevich Kulov, under arrest. The charges were presented to him and the accused was questioned after which the decision was made to take him into custody."

The charges against Kulov are vague. He stands accused of embezzling some $62,000 while governor of the Chu Region. He is also accused of tapping citizens' phones while he was head of the National Security Ministry in 1997. According to that charge, Kulov allegedly purchased the phone-tapping equipment in Moscow and failed to apply through ministry channels to use it. Aitkulov said there are other charges against Kulov but he did not elaborate.

Flanked by members of the press at the hospital yesterday (Wednesday), Kulov said he expected this. He said he did not consider the arrest to be anti-democratic. But when asked by reporters why he was being taken away, Kulov said simply:

"I also asked what are the charges, but so far they only told me it was abuse of public office."

Kulov has not held a public office since last April, when he resigned as mayor of Bishkek. Many observers say his treatment looks like a case of political persecution of a rival of the president.

The court date for Kulov was tentatively set for next month.

(Naryn Idinov of the Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)