Kyrgyz Opposition Forms Interim Government

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 8, 2010

NOTE: In yesterday’s Daily News Article, The Wall Street Journal reported: “Protesters beat [Interior Minister Moldomusa] Kongantiev severely… Later Wednesday, Kyrgyzstan’s AKI news agency reported that Mr. Kongantiev had died of his injuries.”
The Moscow Times reports today (4/8/10): “The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry denied reports that Kongantiyev had died of his injuries.”

(by Alan Cullison and Ksdyr Toktogulov, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan’s opposition said Thursday they have formed an interim government and would keep open a U.S. military base vital to the supply of troops in Afghanistan, but the Kyrgyz capital remained tense one day after bloody protests forced the president and his government to flee.

Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, told a Russian radio station that he had fled the capital to in the country’s southern regions, trying to rally support and deny opposition full control of the country, the Associated Press reported.

“I don’t admit defeat in any way,” he said, but added that he also recognized that “even though I am president, I don’t have any real levers of power.”
Riot police were attacked by anti-government protesters in Bishkek Wednesday.

Police were nowhere in sight on the streets of Bishkek, while mobs still roamed the streets and wandered through looted government buildings.

At a news conference in Bishkek the leader of the coalition of opposition groups, Roza Otunbayeva, said that the toppling of Mr. Bakiyev’s government would have no effect on the supply of troops to Afghanistan.

Ms. Otunbayev, a former foreign minister, said, “The status quo [on the base] remains in place. We won’t rush to decide on such issues.”

A more pressing problem for opposition figures appears to be keeping order in the capital, which was ransacked by looters in the second such change of government in five years.

But unlike in the Tulip Revolution of 2005, when the outgoing president fled the country, Mr. Bakiyev may be trying to hang on, raising the possibility of a north-south split that politicians here worry could erupt into serious conflict.

Health Ministry officials raised the death toll in Wednesday’s violence to 75, with more than 1000 injured.

The U.S. military base is a key transit point for U.S. troops and supplies bound for Afghanistan: Last month alone, more than 50,000 U.S. and coalition troops passed through Manas en route to Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officials. The U.S. agreement allowing American use of the base in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous, Muslim nation of five million, is set to expire soon.

With clashes intensifying Wednesday, Kyrgyzstan ordered a 12-hour halt to flights in and out of Bishkek’s international airport, which also houses the U.S. air field. The order prevented the U.S. military from operating its own flights, which shuttle to and from Afghanistan, U.S. military officials said.

The opposition figures were allies of Mr. Bakiyev during a popular revolt that swept him to power in 2005, and held positions in the early days of his government. But those alliances fractured, and Mr. Bakiyev gradually lost popularity as he shunted aside political rivals and democratic freedoms and appointed family and friends to government posts.

Last month, opposition leaders called for protests to be held this week, seizing on popular anger at a large increase in utility rates in the impoverished nation, and allegations of corrupt privatizations and misuse of development funds by the government.

A Russian media barrage critical of Mr. Bakiyev fed the antigovernment mood in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic.

As demonstrations began Tuesday in two provincial cities, the government responded by arresting key opposition figures-a move that helped fuel the larger-scale outburst the next day.

Crowds gathered in the capital of Bishkek on Wednesday near the [Kyrgyz government headquarters, known as the] White House. Police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, but protesters disarmed some of the police and seized their vehicle carriers. At one point, the protesters tried to ram their way through White House gates with a commandeered armored personnel carrier. At least two people were killed after being shot by snipers, witnesses said.

Elsewhere in the country, protests also gathered steam and regional governors capitulated before angry crowds.

Most of the arrested leaders were released late Wednesday, and headed directly to a meeting with government officials, where they said leaders including the prime minister handed over power.

In the provincial city of Talas on Wednesday, several thousand protesters stormed the police station and seized two top deputies to Mr. Bakiyev who had taken refuge there, First Deputy Prime Minister Akylbek Japarov and Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev, who was stripped and beaten for more than an hour. Mr. Japarov lost an eye, a witness said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Wednesday said Washington still recognized the Bakiyev government. “The situation on the ground is very fluid. We continue to monitor events as they unfold and are in touch with government officials and the opposition to encourage a peaceful resolution consistent with the rule of law,” he said.

……………………………..

-The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Write to Alan Cullison at alan.cullison@wsj.com and Kadyr Toktogulov at kadyr.toktogulov@dowjones.com.

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. a) Who is Roza Otunbayeva?
b) Define coalition.

2. What problem must the opposition leaders address immediately?

3. How is this revolt against the government different from the Tulip Revolution of 2005?

4. How has the Kyrgyz unrest affected the U.S.?

5. How did the opposition leaders become opposed to President Bakiyev?

6. What do you think of ousted President Bakiyev’s refusal to resign?


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.

Background

More on Kyrgyzstan (from wsj.com)

  • Capital: Bishkek
  • Population: 5.4 million
  • Gross Domestic Product in 2008: $4 billion
  • Main Exports: Cotton, tobacco, gold, mercury, uranium and natural gas
  • History: Achieved independence with collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. Both Russia and the U.S. have been courting Kyrgyzstan as an ally in a struggle for influence in the region. Since he came to power in 2005, President Bakiyev has turned Kyrgyzstan into an authoritarian state with a system of political controls starkly similar to Russia’s
  • Relations with U.S.: Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. set up military base in Kyrgyzstan to support war in Afghanistan. But in February 2009, at the same press conference that announced the gift of $2.1 billion in Russian aid to the Kyrgyz, President Bakiyev also announced the closure of the U.S. air base. He later backtracked, offering U.S . continued use of the base, but at three times original rent.

Sources: World Bank, CIA World Factbook, WSJ research

BACKGROUND ON KYRGYZSTAN: (from the CIA World FactBook)

  • A Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions, most of Kyrgyzstan was formally annexed to Russia in 1876.
  • The Kyrgyz staged a major revolt against the Tsarist Empire in 1916 in which almost one-sixth of the Kyrgyz population was killed.
  • Kyrgyzstan became a Soviet republic in 1936 and achieved independence in 1991 when the USSR dissolved.
  • Nationwide demonstrations in the spring of 2005 resulted in the ouster of President Askar Akaev, who had run the country since 1990.
  • Subsequent presidential elections in July 2005 were won overwhelmingly by former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev.
  • The political opposition organized demonstrations in Bishkek in April, May, and November 2006 resulting in the adoption of a new constitution that transferred some of the president’s powers to parliament and the government.
  • In December 2006, the Kyrgyzstani parliament voted to adopt new amendments, restoring some of the presidential powers lost in the November 2006 constitutional change.
  • By late-September 2007, both previous versions of the constitution were declared illegal, and the country reverted to the Akaev-era 2003 constitution, which was subsequently modified in a flawed referendum initiated by Bakiev.
  • The president then dissolved parliament, called for early elections, and gained control of the new parliament through his newly-created political party, Ak Jol, in December 2007 elections.
  • In July 2009, after months of harassment against his opponents and media critics, Bakiev won re-election in a presidential campaign that the international community deemed flawed.
  • Just a few months later in October, Bakiev engineered changes in the government structure that further consolidated his already considerable hold on power.
  • Current concerns include:

-privatization of state-owned enterprises
-negative trends in democracy and political freedoms
-endemic corruption
-improving interethnic relations
-electricity generation
-combating terrorism.

Resources

View a map of Kyrgyzstan at the Wall Street Journal website here.

For background information on Kyrgyzstan, go to the U.S. State Department website and the CIA World FactBook website.