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Opposition Rallies As UN Chief Visits In Kyrgyzstan

UN Secretary-General In Bishkek
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WATCH: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses a press conference after his meetings with Kyrgyz officials.

(RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has chided Kyrgyzstan for its worsening human rights records in a stinging rebuke to the country once regarded as Central Asia's most democratic state.

Ban is on the second leg of a Central Asian tour that will take also him to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

"For the United Nations, the protection of human rights is a bedrock principle if a country is to prosper," Ban said today in a speech to the Kyrgyz parliament.

"Recent events have been troubling, including the past few days. I repeat: all human rights must be protected, including free speech and freedom of the media," he added.

Ban's visit has encouraged opposition and rights activists to voice their grievances, and protesters today sought to draw his attention to what they see as widespread rights violations.

They chanted "freedom" and "help us" as Ban arrived at the parliament building in Bishkek to give a speech.

"Honestly, we are a concerned about the mounting risk of clashes between the civil society and authorities," Toktaiym Umetalieva, a former presidential candidate who now heads an association of nongovernment organizations, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service:

"The United Nations must solve this problem by using its leverage and addressing that issue with our dear Mr. Kurmanbek Bakiev."

WATCH: Opposition rallies in Bishkek (in Kyrgyz and Russian).
Kyrgyz Rally In Bishkek
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Pressure On Media

Temir Sariev, another opposition leader and former presidential candidate, expressed concern about the mounting pressure on independent journalists.

"Whatever the authorities may say, independent media outlets are being pressured," Sariev said.

"One of the aims of today's protest is to draw the attention of the local community and of international organizations to such problems," he added. "It is also a message by the heads of the media outlets and [opposition] party leaders that we will continue our struggle and fight for our freedom."

Just days before Ban's visit, Kyrgyz police raided a local television channel, seizing equipment and effectively pulling it off the air.

In March, Kyrgyz courts banned two newspapers with ties to the opposition and fined them more than $110,000 on charges of insulting Bakiev.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement on April 2 it was "deeply disturbed" by the Kyrgyz authorities' efforts to "systematically unplug their citizens from independent and opposition news sources."

Ban is on the second leg of a Central Asian tour that is being closely watched for how strongly he will press local governments on human rights.

Speaking in Turkmenistan on April 2, Ban said he had been able to win human rights concessions from the Turkmen leader.