Bishkek, 7 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The first of some 300 people on a hunger strike in protest of the arrest of Kyrgyz parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov has died. RFE/RL's correspondent in Bishkek says 51-year-old Sheraly Nazarkulov died early today in a Bishkek hospital after being on a hunger strike for 21 days.
Nazarkulov was among hundreds protesting throughout Kyrgyzstan since mid-January against the arrest of Beknazarov, who is charged with abuse of power during his term as a local prosecutor. His supporters say he was arrested because he strongly criticized the administration of President Askar Akaev.
Tursunbek Akunov, chairman of the Public Committee to Protect Beknazarov, told RFE/RL that about 30 people are on a hunger strike in Bishkek and another 270 people are striking elsewhere in the country. Some 50 protesters ended their protest on 5 February.
Lists reportedly containing some 17,601 signatures to a petition calling for Beknazarov's release were stolen from a car en route from Djalalabad to Bishkek on 5 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Police had stopped the car to lecture the driver on road safety.