According to the Associated Press, after a March 24 rally of some 5,000 protesters in the streets of Bishkek, the republics capital, about 1,000 people seized the presidential compound, meeting little resistance from police armed with truncheons and shields standing next to a protective fence. President Askar Akayev, who had been the nations ruler for the past 14 years, fled the country. Akayev took refuge in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin made clear he would be welcome. Akayev has stated he is not resigning.
I did not expect this, said Kurmanbek Bakiyev, an opposition leader and former prime minister who was appointed interim prime minister and acting president by parliament on March 25. I thought we would have a rally and appeal to the president. But because they did not come to the talks, this was the result. Several days earlier protesters succeeded in seizing control of all three of the regional capitals in the southern part of the country as well.
Bakiyev had resigned his previous post as prime minister in 2002 after police fired into a crowed of 1,500 demonstrators protesting the arrest of a parliamentary leader.
The immediate issue fueling the latest protests were charges by opposition figures of fraud in the elections for a new parliament held on February 27, and in the March 13 run-off vote, in which Akayevs supporters won 69 of 75 seats. Discontent by working people with deteriorating economic conditions, however, is also a factor in the current conflict. Decades of Stalinist misrule followed by efforts to reestablish capitalism over the past decade have devastated living conditions among workers and farmers.
Kyrgyzstan, located on the western border of China, has a population of some 5 million people, 75 percent of whom are Muslim. While the country is rich in oil and gas deposits, the economy remains largely agricultural. An estimated 50 percent of the population live below the official poverty level.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the collapse of the Stalinist regime there, production plummeted as an aggressive policy of privatizing the countrys enterprises was pursued. A study of the Kyrgyzstan economy published by the Federal Research Division of the U.S. Library of Congress described the way industry in the country was transferred from state ownership to private hands. Most privatization (and almost all privatization in industry) was accomplished by creation of joint-stock companies, the report states. Almost no public bidding for enterprise shares occurred, and the state maintained significant shares in enterprises after their conversion[.]
Open theft of national patrimony by elements of the former Stalinist bureaucracy characterized this process. Akayev, who led this sell-off of state property, complained in 1993 that 70 percent of the state funds earmarked for economic improvements were diverted into private hands. A poll reported at the time that 85 percent of the countrys so-called entrepreneurs reported that bribery was a necessary part of maintaining their businesses.
As part of its war against Afghanistan in 2002, Washington established and has maintained a military base with some 1,000 troops in Kyrgyzstan, right outside the capital, as well as 1,300 troops in the bordering former Soviet Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. Moscow also maintains a military base near Bishkek. U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli urged the Kyrgyz government to open a dialogue with the opposition, stating, Violence is not an acceptable means for resolving differences.
The day after Akayev fled the country, the high court ruled that the recently held parliamentary elections were invalid and ordered the former deputies to reconvene. In effect, this ruling created a situation in which rival parliaments were competing for power. In response, acting prime minister Bakiyev signed an order saying that most of the newly elected deputies would be allowed to stay on, although it was not clear how this would be implemented. He also announced that a new presidential election would be held June 26, and announced his candidacy.
Bakiyev also phoned Putin to ask for emergency aid. Putin, while saying he wants to develop good relations with the countrys new leadership, has condemned the uprising as illegitimate.
Parliament also appointed opposition leader Felix Kulov to be coordinator of the countrys police forces. Kulov, who resigned as vice president in 1993 over a dispute about missing gold reserves, had been jailed on corruption charges since 2001 until protesters forced Akayev to flee the country. We have arrested many people, commented Kulov. According to a government official, as of March 24 two people were killed and 173 hospitalized, and many more received minor injuries in the street clashes.
Kulov also announced that he was backing the newly elected members of parliament, which includes some wealthy businessmen. He vowed to arrest any of the former members of parliament if they organized any further protests, according to the AKI press agency.
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