Spontaneous protests had broken out in March in northern villages after the government ordered a big increase in electricity and heating rates that quadrupled utility bills for many working people. Opposition politicians put themselves at the head of the protests, which were also fueled by hatred for the lavish lifestyles of the Bakiyev family and harsh attacks on democratic rights.
As the protests spread to the capital city, Bishek, the government, in a last ditch move, offered April 5 to pay half the utility bills of families living in remote northern mountainous areas. Thousands still turned out to protest April 7. Bakiyev ordered snipers to fire at marchers from rooftops. They killed at least 78 people, but demonstrators fought back, seizing some of the cops weapons and riot shields. They eventually chased the security forces away.
Kyrgyzstan is the second poorest of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Half the population of 5.4 million are farmers. Workers and farmers have borne the brunt of an acute economic crisis over the past few years as the capitalist depression widened, sharply increasing poverty in Kyrgyzstan. Official unemployment stands at 18 percent. An estimated 40 percent of the population lives below the official poverty line. Forty percent of the gross domestic product comes from remittances sent to families by relatives working in Russia.
The country became independent in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. The new Kyrgyz government embarked on a privatization program that turned over many state-run enterprises to whoever offered the highest bribe. When the U.S. government invaded nearby Afghanistan in 2001, Kyrgyzs rulers readily agreed to host a U.S. air base, which became a source of giant profits in fuel sales.
In what was called the tulip revolution in 2005, then-president Askar Akayev, hated for corruption, was overthrown by forces seeking a closer relationship with Washington. He fled to Russia, where he was offered asylum. Bakiyev took power, pledging to fight corruption and poverty.
The Bakiyev family made a fortune from fuel sales to the U.S. air base, which became a more and more hated symbol of corruption amidst the growing poverty of Kyrgyz working people. As opposition to Bakiyev mounted, his regime cracked down on its opponents, jailing some, and disappearing others.
While currying favor with Washington, Bakiyev also promoted a relationship with Moscow, which opposes the U.S. military presence on what it considers its turf. A Russian military base was built in Kyrgyzstan in 2003 near the U.S. facility.
In February 2009 Moscow convinced Bakiyev to tell Washington it was closing its base, after the Russian government offered a large bribe in the form of a $2 billion investment. But the Obama administration agreed to more than triple the rent it pays for the base, winning Bakiyevs agreement that the base could stay for one year.
Following the overthrow of Bakiyev, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was the first to recognize the new regime, putting in a call to its head, Roza Otunbayeva. Washington has not recognized the interim government.
Obamas senior director of Russian affairs, Michael McFaul, sought to discourage speculation, however, that Moscow actually organized the ouster. This is not some anti-American coup, he said. And this is not some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup. Theres just no evidence of that. Omurbek Tekebayev, a prominent figure in the new government, said, Even without Russia, this would have happened sooner or later, but I think the Russian factor was decisive.
Otunbayeva has served as foreign minister twice and as ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom. She was Bakiyevs first prime minister, but quit after a year in office. She announced that the interim government would take charge for six months until presidential elections.
Appealing to Russia for financial aid, Otunbayeva said, Russia was important and remains important for us. As for the U.S. air base: We will not touch the air base. The existing contracts will remain in place. Washingtons lease runs out in July.
Last month 50,000 coalition troops passed through the Manas base on their way to or from Afghanistan. Washington briefly shut the base down after Bakiyevs overthrow then reopened it. Military passenger transport flights were temporarily suspended April 9.
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