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Kyrgyzstan: Embattled Opposition Mulls Election Strategy

Under continuing pressure from the Kyrgyz authorities, opposition parties congregated on 23 August in Kyrgyzstan's remote southern district of Aksy to mull over a strategy for the presidential elections due in 2005.

Prague, 25 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- On 23 August, representatives of several Kyrgyz opposition parties and NGOs congregated in the town of Kerben in Kyrgyzstan's southern Aksy Raion to attend the second World Kurultai (Congress) of Kyrgyz.

The objective of the gathering was to discuss the current political and economic situation and discuss strategy for the presidential election due in 2005. The congress was organized by the opposition Movement for the Resignation of [incumbent Kyrgyz President Askar] Akaev, an umbrella movement that unites the Asaba, Erkindik, Erkin Kyrgyzstan, Djangy Kyrgyzstan, Respublika and several other parties and organizations. The organizers claimed that some 1,200 delegates attended the Kurultai, while local authorities say there were only some 250 participants.

Originally, the organizers had hoped to hold the congress in Bishkek, but municipal authorities in the capital and other large cities refused to grant them permission to do so. In Aksy, by contrast, the authorities' influence is circumscribed and support for the opposition is high. In March 2002, five people were killed in Aksy when police opened fire on protesters demanding the release from detention of their parliament deputy, Asaba leader Azimbek Beknazarov, who hails from the region. Beknazarov was released days later.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 22 August, former vice president and opposition Ar Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov said Aksy is the only region in Kyrgyzstan where the opposition can meet freely. Kulov is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges of abuse of office which fellow opposition activists say were politically motivated. Delegates to the congress in Aksy adopted a resolution calling for his release.

Kulov emphasized that the opposition parties should at least be united on certain issues.

"We understand that it is impossible to unite [all the opposition forces]. However, there are several questions that would be a common issue for all. First, there are human rights [issues]. Second, there is [the necessity of] barring [the authorities] from establishing an authoritarian regime in the country."

Kulov also praised the Aksy residents as the people in the vanguard of Kyrgyzstan's struggle for democracy.

Addressing the congress in Aksy, Beknazarov recalled that the Movement for the Resignation of Akaev was founded just over a year earlier, and that some of its members had succeeded in being named to the Constitutional Council that drafted amendments to the constitution put to a nationwide referendum in February 2003.

"The parties and politicians who are attending the current congress established the Movement for the Resignation of Akaev and For Reforms In the Interests of People on 14 August 2002. To turn the people's will into action, and to carry out the decision of the last congress, several politicians were united into the movement. Their [representatives] became one of the members of the Constitutional Council established by President [Akaev], and attempted to change Akaev's regime," Beknazarov said.

At the same time, Beknazarov deplored the fact that Kyrgyz opposition forces are not united, and called on them to close ranks.

Topchubek Turgnualiev, who is chairman of the Erkindik (Freedom) Party, criticized the current leadership of Kyrgyzstan for failing to do more to alleviate poverty. He told delegates to the kurultai, "Akaev's regime made Kyrgyzstan an unhappy country. Now about 90 percent of people are poor. Akaev [and his ministers] admit themselves that about 55-60 percent of the population are poor. But they [usually] understate [the real figures] by at least half."

TurgunAliyev also said the Kyrgyz people should appeal to an international court to rule on the legality of agreements President Akaev signed ceding border territories to China.

On 24 August, Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told RFE/RL that he considers the opposition's criticism of the government's economic and social policy unfounded. He said the government will not resign.

"The economy is not bad, it is OK. Despite harsh weather conditions this year, everything is OK, including agriculture and other spheres. Everything is OK. [The opposition] lacks arguments. The government is not going to quit because of the [opposition forces'] demands to do so."

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