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Kyrgyzstan: Civil Disobedience Turns Into Hostage Taking In Djalalabad

Last month's detainment of Kyrgyz lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov has led to demonstrations throughout Kyrgyzstan, particularly in Beknazarov's home region of Djalalabad. Local protests in Djalalabad Oblast intensified last night when some 1,000 residents took a number of government officials hostage. The move prompted harsh criticism from President Askar Akaev, who branded the protesters as extremists.

Prague, 19 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The case of jailed Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov took a new turn last night, when some 1,000 residents in his home district took 12 government employees hostage. The events prompted President Askar Akaev to condemn the crowd's actions as "political extremism."

Previously, residents had limited their actions to demonstrations and hunger strikes to call attention to Beknazarov's plight. The lawmaker, who is to be tried for alleged abuse of power while serving as the province's prosecutor-general, is also an outspoken critic of the Kyrgyz government's territorial concessions to China late last year. His defenders say this is the true reason for his detention.

The hostage taking -- involving eight government ministers and four drivers -- seems to have been provoked by reports that Beknazarov has been mistreated while in detention. Kyrgyz parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov described Beknazarov's situation at a parliamentary session yesterday (18 February).

"Two men went into Beknazarov's cell and beat him severely. They injured his leg so badly he can hardly walk. Beknazarov asked that parliament be told about this."

The eight government officials were seized when they were visiting the Aksy district to persuade demonstrators -- who have kept their children from attending school in protest of Beknazarov's detention -- to return the students to school. The protesters, angered by reports that Beknazarov had been beaten in his cell, took the officials and are now keeping them locked inside a district building. Some 1,000 demonstrators are participating in the hostage taking.

The hostages include the head of the Aksy district administration, his deputy, the head of the district police department, and also the head of the district's education department.

The reports of Beknazarov's beating were strongly denied by presidential representative Usup Mukambaev during a parliament session last night. "We categorically deny this [beating]. This is the latest stirring of provocations."

Sadyrbek Dubanaev, the first deputy interior minister, addressed parliament and purported to read a letter to the deputies sent by Beknazarov himself.

"Esteemed deputies, my health is good. There are rumors about my condition in temporary custody, but these are nothing more than rumors. I officially declare to you that I am in good health. The guards here provide me with essential needs, and I thank them for that and ask that rumors about my poor health be stopped. It is impossible to beat me."

Akaev spoke on state television and radio last night and said the actions in Aksy were "not democratic means for solving such problems, and more like something in the way of political extremism."

Akaev promised to do all in his power -- "despite pressure from within and outside" -- to ensure the court reaches a fair decision in Beknazarov's trial, which was scheduled to begin on 12 February but has since been indefinitely postponed.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)