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Kyrgyz Opposition Rallies Nationwide To Protest Government's 'Unfulfilled Promises'


Opposition supporters rally in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
BISHKEK/PRAGUE -- Thousands of people have gathered in the Kyrgyz capital and across other cities as part of a series of opposition rallies to express frustration with the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

The opposition is protesting what it says are the government's unfulfilled promises to improve the lives of people in the country and a decision to hold early presidential elections in late July.

The largest rally was in Bishkek, but smaller rallies were being held throughout the country.

The Interior Ministry reported late in the day that there were no arrests or other major incidents at any of the demonstrations, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Video: Protesters chant "Bakiev out!" and well-known bard Sagynbek Mombekov sings a song about victory during the opposition rally in Bishkek on March 27.
Protest In Bishkek
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The fiery leader of the opposition Ata-Meken party, former parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, told the crowd in the capital that "we are headed on the correct path. The path of [the pro-presidential party] Ak-Jol is not a better way -- it is the road to damnation."

Tekebaev accused police and other authorities of "using dirty methods against their political and economic rivals," including disinformation and brutality.

"Today, more and more frequently they are beating journalists, constantly putting them on trial and sentencing them to jail; the authorities are more and more often threatening their opponents and their opponents' relatives; they are even threatening teachers, doctors, and students; [political opponents] are disappearing without a trace," Tekebaev told demonstrators. "We must set up a barrier to these criminal methods. We have enough power to do it!"

He also threatened the government with a series of public protests if it did not fulfill opposition demands by April 20.

Opposition Leaders Detained

Ata-Meken is claiming there are some 2,000 people demonstrating in the northwestern city of Talas; another 1,500 protesting in the northeastern city of Naryn; and several hundred people rallying in the towns on Kara-Kol and Balykchy on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in northeastern Kyrgyzstan.

Omurbek Tekebaev addresses a crowd in Bishkek.
The opposition says there are demonstrations under way in three cities in southern Jalal-Abat Province. Ata-Meken is reporting that police there temporarily detained some opposition leaders and surrounded the offices of opposition parties and movements to prevent people from reaching their rallying points.

In the town of Sokoluk, some 30 kilometers west of Bishkek, Ak-Shumkar (White Falcon) leader Temir Sariev spoke to a crowd of some 1,000 people.

"The participants of the meeting include in their list of demands that if Bakiev runs in presidential elections he relinquish his presidential powers [during the campaign] so as to compete on the same level as [other candidates]," Sariev said.

"The resolution demands: one, to form the Central Election Commission on an equal [number of state and opposition representatives]; two, to change the heads of the power structures and name representatives of the opposition to take their places; and three, to ask international organizations to send qualified representatives to [monitor] elections," he said.

The relationship between the government and opposition in Kyrgyzstan has deteriorated greatly in recent months.

Miroslav Niyazov, a former general and Security Council secretary, summed up the severity of the situation in an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"If the authorities think they can win the elections by the same methods used in 2005, then it could lead to bloodshed," Niyazov said.

'Demands Are Fair'

Bakiev came to power in 2005 after widespread protests -- similar to today's rallies -- eventually forced his predecessor, Askar Akaev, from power.

Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman is calling on authorities to seriously consider some of the opposition's demands.

"The majority of the opposition's demands are fair and should be considered by the authorities," said Tursunbek Akun. "Of course, there are some radical demands with which I do not agree and have spoken openly about this. But among the demands are constructive proposals that are possible to agree upon and the authorities should regard them with understanding and come up with compromises."

Bakiev's press service released a statement on March 27 criticizing the opposition for withdrawing from talks with the government in February and for resorting to ultimatums with the government.

The demonstrations are the first in a series of protests the opposition is planning on holding in the run up to presidential elections on July 23.

The opposition is vowing to field a single candidate and say they will name that candidate next month. Some opposition leaders are also calling on Bakiev to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report

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