Wednesday, 23 April 2014

National Opposition Rallies in Kyrgyzstan

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By Arslan Sabyrbekov (04/23/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On April 10, Kyrgyzstan’s recently created National Opposition Movement conducted its first rally in the capital Bishkek, as well as smaller supporting rallies in the cities of Jalalabad, Osh and Karakol. The number of participants in Bishkek ranged from 1,000 to 1,200 people, including a number of media representatives. In the provinces, the number varied from 200 to 500 demonstrators.

The demonstration took place in Bishkek’s Gorky Park in a relatively peaceful manner, despite the detention of several dozens of demonstrators. According to the chief of Bishkek city Police, Melis Turganbaev, and Kyrgyzstan’s Ombudsman Bakyt Amanbaev, more than 200 rally participants were detained because they gathered outside of the aforementioned park. They were released several hours later. Also, in an interview to local journalists, Kyrgyzstan’s Ombudsman criticized state television channels for the biased coverage of the rally by portraying the demonstrators in a negative light. The Ombudsman stated that “all the citizens have inherent rights to peacefully hold rallies and demonstrations, where they can openly declare their opposition to any decisions taken by the country’s authorities and their voices must be heard.”

During the protests, prominent leaders of the National Opposition Movement delivered their speeches to their audience and put forward their demands to the country’s political leadership. The demands ranged from renegotiating the agreement over the Canadian-run Kumtor Gold Mining Company, the president’s resignation and the dissolution of the current Parliament, changing the sentence of the arrested former speaker of parliament Akhmatbek Keldibekov, and several other demands. The movement’s leader, the independent MP Ravshan Jeenbekov, said that “the fundamental objective of the rally is to raise public awareness of the president’s full control of the country and his continuing efforts to establish a fully authoritarian form of government in Kyrgyzstan.” The opposition leader added that the rally was also conducted to call on the president and the country’s top political leadership to stop selling the country’s crucial assets to the Russian Federation. Kyrgyzstan’s government recently reached a preliminary agreement with the Russian state oil company Rosneft to transfer its majority shares in Manas International Airport in exchange for assistance to create an international hub. This, according to the rally participants, heavily undermines the country’s economic as well as political independence.

At exactly the same time as the united opposition was holding its first public rally, Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev met with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. The sides signed a final document according to which the world’s largest extractor of natural gas will take over Kyrgyzstan’s KyrgyzGaz natural-gas corporation for US$ 1. During a press conference, Alexei Miller termed the deal “historic” and stated that “all debts of the Kyrgyz state company will become Gazprom's responsibility, the prices for gas for consumers in Kyrgyzstan will be decreased, and all projects and programs, including social ones, related to the company will be outlined and implemented with the Kyrgyz government’s involvement.”

The first rally of the recently created National Opposition Movement got a mixed reception from the Kyrgyz wider public and the local experts. According to Bishkek-based political analyst Shairbek Juraev, “in a democratic state, every political and social movement has a right to demonstrate, publicly deliver their ideas and there is nothing wrong with it, but there is a firm belief in our society that each demonstration shall lead to a revolution or a complete overthrow of the regime.” Regarding the movement’s demands, Juraev added that all of them are not groundless. Kyrgyzstan is indeed facing a number of socio-economic problems. The issue of the Kumtor Gold Mining Company and Manas International airport should be solved in the best interest of the country by holding public debates and discussions involving all the political forces. It remains a challenging task for the current political leadership to seek that involvement with the opposition forces who demand the immediate resignation of the current political elite.

While the opposition leaders claim that the rally was conducted in a fairly peaceful and democratic manner, the country’s recently nominated Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev stated that the rally inflicted economic damages amounting to at least 100 million Kyrgyz soms. On the day of the rally, local entrepreneurs feared looting and closed their shops and businesses.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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