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Kyrgyzstan: Government Considers General Amnesty To Calm Tensions

The Kyrgyz cabinet yesterday proposed a general amnesty for all people involved in the clashes in the southern Aksy Raion in March. At least five people were killed when police opened fire on a crowd demonstrating for the release from jail of Kyrgyz opposition deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. Subsequent demonstrations have called for the punishment of those responsible, and several local officials were dismissed. Parliament is set to debate the amnesty today, but opposition groups are arguing the amnesty would benefit only those in the government, since protesters exercising their constitutional rights to demonstrate should not require amnesty.

Prague, 25 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- "We are standing on the edge of a clash among our people," Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev said while addressing a session of the government yesterday in Bishkek.

It was not the first time there have been warnings about civil war in Kyrgyzstan in recent months, as the situation appears to grow more complicated each day.

The Kyrgyz government did propose what it considered a way out of at least one the country's problems: the killing of five protesters last March during demonstrations in the southern Aksy Raion in support of opposition lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov, who was charged with abuse of office while in a previous position. The government has sent to parliament for discussion a draft bill granting amnesty to everyone involved in the incident. But opposition groups and demonstrators say the amnesty only would benefit those who ordered and carried out the shooting.

The March killings made an already bad situation worse. National and local authorities were quick to blame the demonstrators for starting the incident. They also accused the opposition figures who organized the demonstrations of using the crowds to further their own political goals. A special commission formed to investigate what happened in Aksy took nearly two months to conclude that blame for the events lay with the local authorities for failing to control law-enforcement officials, who in turn were blamed for giving the order to fire on the crowd.

The findings caused the downfall of the Kyrgyz government, which resigned last month following the commission findings, but it did not stop calls to bring to justice those responsible for the Aksy events. A court decision finding Beknazarov guilty in late May gave new impetus to demonstrations. Beknazarov is appealing the verdict, giving protesters another rallying point. Demonstrations have been held this week in the southern cities of Djalalabad and Osh.

It was against this backdrop that Prime Minister Tanaev spoke to his cabinet about a general amnesty. "We are offering this legislative act for discussion and adoption at a session of the government and then bringing it to the Legislative Assembly and People's Assembly with only one goal. We are taking into consideration the opinion of residents in [the raions of] Aksy, Papan, Kara-Suu, and Ala-Buka. It means we are taking into consideration the opinion of the people. Our task is only this: not to allow the splintering of society on the basis of whom to hold responsible and whom not to hold responsible," Tanaev said.

Tanaev's proposal would seem to be an attempt to leave the events surrounding Aksy behind and move on. But for those who were, and still are, demonstrating, it represents only one thing: an attempt to clear the names of government and law-enforcement officials who played a part in the Aksy tragedy. Demonstrators argue that they were merely exercising their constitutional right to hold a rally and became victims so they should not require any amnesty, having committed no crime.

The demonstrators say they have personal reasons as well for continuing their protests. Nurbubu Urkumbaeva was demonstrating in Djalalabad today. Her brother Sartynbai was one of the five people killed in March. She had this to say: "During the Boz Piek village [Aksy Raion] event, my older brother Sartynbai was murdered. Now the authorities are suggesting a draft law on amnesty to wash clean the people who shot him. We don't agree with the draft and we are against it. How can we pardon the murderers who shot the people?" Urkumbaeva said.

Beknazarov would benefit from the amnesty, especially because his criminal record from his May conviction would necessitate his dismissal from parliament. But he objects to the offer. "We, who would benefit from this 'amnesty,' are against receiving any amnesty because they are tempting us after unlawfully sentencing us. They would be destroying us twice," Beknazarov said.

The government said in March the demonstrators did not receive any permission to hold their rallies, making the protests technically illegal. President Askar Akaev called the organizers of the demonstrations extremists. Later, when protesters blocked the country's main highway, there were also comments from the government that the action was illegal as it cut the main artery uniting the northern and southern parts of the country. Such people would benefit from a general amnesty if the Kyrgyz government intended to press charges against them, something that, in these volatile times, has not yet been discussed.

There is another concern here. At yesterday's session of the cabinet, First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov reminded the ministers that law-enforcement officials involved in quelling the Aksy protests, including the policemen who shot the protesters, still live in the region with their families. Relatives nearby have appealed to the government to protect their kin and have vowed to go to their defense if the government leaves them to the mercy of demonstrators. This, on a small scale, is exactly the kind of civil conflict Tanaev warned of.

(Tynchtykbek Tchoroev of the RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)