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'I Won And Did My Duty,' Kyrgyz Opposition Leader Says

Kyrgyz opposition leader Almazbek Atambaev: "We won. It is another matter that they stole the votes, but I think that the people will be able to defend their right to vote. We just won't recognize anymore that there is a legitimate president -- not for on
MOSCOW -- According to the official results, Almazbek Atambaev lost last week's presidential election in Kyrgyzstan. But insists that he won the poll and that incumbent President Kurmanbek Bakiev was reelected only through massive fraud.

While in Moscow earlier this week to meet with officials there, Atambaev spoke to Dilbegim Mavloniy of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service to talk about his "stolen" victory, the ordeal of campaigning and election day, and his plans for the immediate future.

RFE/RL: Mr. Atambaev, can you comment on the election that took place a few days ago, in which you were the main challenger to current President Kurmanbek Bakiev?

Almazbek Atambaev:
I am not a challenger. I won the elections, the people voted for me. It's a different matter that the Central Election Commission named Bakiev the winner. That's the big difference.

RFE/RL: Why did you withdraw your candidacy on election day?

First of all, I did not withdraw my candidacy. My words were misinterpreted. I simply said that we would not recognize these elections as legitimate and this person [Bakiev] portrayed by the Central Election Commission [as the victor], we also do not recognize as legitimate.
The corruption we have in the country has reached levels never seen before.

Therefore, already by 12 p.m., even earlier in the morning, when the authorities understood that they were losing they started beating [our Social Democratic Party] parliamentary deputies.

RFE/RL: Didn't Bakiev try to convince you not to run for the presidency?

You know, we don't have such a relationship. After my resignation [as prime minister] he offered me various posts. I refused to work together [with him], why? Because a person who cannot control his own family cannot govern a country.

About 40 demonstrators were arrested at an opposition rally in Bishkek on July 29.
The corruption we have in the country has reached levels never seen before. The bureaucrats in all regions -- from the prime minister and ending with the governors, the mayors -- they sit in banquet halls of the relatives of the president. After these elections, we believe that in Kyrgyzstan there is no legitimate president.

RFE/RL: But hasn't Bakiev contacted you?

He didn't contact [me] himself. Instead, of course, people from the [Kyrgyz] White House came. They said that it wasn't worth it to run in the election. There were threats, comments on what I thought about the life of my small daughter. After that I was forced to send my young children out of the country.

RFE/RL: After election day you said that there would be a meeting in the country. On the evening of July 23, outside your campaign headquarters, a massive protest took place, but a representative of the opposition United People's Movement, Azimbek Beknazarov, asked those present to remain calm and peacefully disperse to their homes. In the days since, there have been rumors that you were paid $50,000 not to incite the people.

Today people called me and said that somehow I was paid $5 million. They can say this as much as they like, but I will tell you this -- that Atambaev has never been bought and never can be bought. And the current authorities, the corrupt, will in any case do everything so that I won't be alive. This was clear from the way they treated me during elections. I barely survived.

But God is with me, watches over me, and the people are with me. Therefore I am not afraid of anything but death. And why would I need money? In the end all a person, a Muslim, needs is two square meters of ground and eight meters of cloth. I believe this is all I need.

Keeping The Country Together

RFE/RL: Mr. Atambaev, there is a part of your history I don't understand. Didn't you sometime around November 2006 call Bakiev a "political corpse who is not even worth bringing back to life," but four months later you said you believed in the president's reforms. What happened during these four months and why did you suddenly change your attitude toward Bakiev?

No, I didn't change my attitude. It was a complicated situation. And when [former Prime Minister and opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks] Kulov left office and, along with [head of the National Television and Radio Corporation Melis] Eshimkanov, called people into the streets, it was a complicated situation.

Eshimkanov and several of "the boys" from the Chui Valley, from Bishkek, called to a guy from Osh on the square and started to kick him, in the stomach and lower, and said to him "Why did you come from Osh to Bishkek?" They did all this in the presence of Eshimkanov.

Naturally, little by little, through state channels, diskettes with a recording [of the beating] were sent south. In parliament itself, the deputies are divided into north and south. I have been there when the southerners and northerners are shoving each other around.
I joined the government for the sake of keeping Kyrgyzstan united, and preventing it from dividing into south and north.

With such a situation, a decision was made by the reform movement to present eight demands to Bakiev. If he agreed to the demands, then we would work with Bakiev. I myself did not make this decision.

And in the second point, it was written a government should be formed within three days. It was a different matter that those who signed this decision soon after rejected it. But some of those who signed these demands insisted on them and I joined the government for the sake of keeping Kyrgyzstan united, and preventing it from dividing into south and north.

It was then I said to the now deceased deputy, one of the leaders of the opposition at the time, Dorymbek Sadyrbaev: "Doke, if I go [into the government] they will lambast me for selling out for a seat [in government]." And then Dorymbek Sadyrbaev said to me, "Yes, they will lambast you but not even two years will go by and the south will understand who the Bakievs are, and the opposition will understand who Kulov and Eshimkanov are."

The people now know who Kulov and Eshimkanov are, and now the south has voted for me. It was vitally important for me to preserve the opposition.

Neighbors' Support

RFE/RL: Mr. Atambaev, on July 25, even before the announcement of the election results, it was widely reported that the leaders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan had already congratulated President Bakiev on his victory. Doesn't it seem to you that these heads of neighboring states were hinting at their support for Bakiev?

No, I think we have very smart neighbors, wise politicians. I also think that they will hold back from participating in this farce, this type of legitimization, inauguration of presidential elections. They have smart advisers. I think that the leadership of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan don't need to take part in such a farce.

Moreover, I don't think they would help to pressure the people of Kyrgyzstan with force. This is unacceptable. Under the terms of certain international agreements and obligations these things are proscribed.

It is a different matter that they, apparently, were deceived by the current authorities. Therefore the fact they sent congratulations is of no consequence. Some people were simply misled, unlike our Russian colleagues. According to our information, on August 1 -- Bakiev's birthday -- there is a gathering of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization. There is another date -- the inauguration -- and I think our neighbors will have the good sense not to take part in this farce.

RFE/RL: And in the extreme scenario?

Then they themselves will be compromised in front of the people of Kyrgyzstan.

RFE/RL: Mr. Atambaev, you maintain ties with opposition groups from neighboring countries, were your relying on them for support during the presidential campaign?

You know, not really. I pretty much just wanted to leave politics, but our opposition convinced me [not to]. They said only I could wake up the people, could win, and they turned out to be right.

RFE/RL: Why did you want to leave politics?

I was tired. Politics can get on one's nerves. Then also, as you know, it also wears on one's family. In 2002, when [Askar] Akaev was president, they tried to kill my oldest daughter. Thank God it didn't work, but I thought then that better I should die than my daughter.

Now the threats are aimed at my youngest daughter. But the opposition decided, and I carried out my duty. We won. It is another matter that they stole the votes, but I think that the people will be able to defend their right to vote. We just won't recognize anymore that there is a legitimate president -- not for one day, one week, or one month.

In general I think that, considering the "carousel" [ballot-box stuffing], he [Bakiev] received some 25 percent of the vote and probably less than that. I think it wasn't worth it for the authorities to do this the way they did.