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Akaev Struggles to Stem Mounting Dissent

The Kyrgyz authorities are struggling to defuse public fury over last month's brutal suppression of a protest in the south of the country.
By Sultan Jumagulov

Amid growing opposition calls for his resignation, Kyrgyzstan president Askar Akaev is trying to restore calm and reassert his rattled authority following the bloody events in Aksy last month.


Under a presidential edict, state administrations, civic groups and education institutions throughout Kyrgyzstan are holding meetings to discuss the tragedy which saw five protesters killed by police. Meanwhile, the state media continues to broadcast appeals from famous Kyrgyz figures for peace and calm.


However, many believe that the events at the demonstrations in support of the imprisoned parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov merely brought to a head a growing dissatisfaction with Akaev's twelve-year reign.


The Aksy incident came about not just because of the public concern for the fate of Beknazarov, but also dissatisfaction with Akaev, said opposition deputy Adakhan Madumarov.


Many point to the country's presidential and parliamentary elections in 2000 as the actual roots of the current crisis, when it is alleged votes were falsified and opponents removed.


"If Akaev had decided to leave his post back in 2000, providing the country with fair elections, he would have avoided this explosion of popular hatred," commented one of the president's main opponents, Omurbek Tekebaev.


Tension has also been fuelled further by the increasingly authoritarian tactics Akaev has used. His government now includes a number of faces from the country's communist days.


"On the eve of the elections in 2000 Akaev gathered a team made up of old communist personnel who are opposed to the concepts of human rights and the rule of law. In a short period of time, they did everything necessary in order to create the preconditions for the establishment of an authoritarian regime. That is the main cause of the current crisis," said Tugelbai Kazakov, the leader of the People's Congress, which has been created from a base of several opposition parties.


However, many believe Akaev's hard line tactics may well have misfired. The president has alienated and sidelined many key political and business figures in Kyrgyzstan, including his own former vice-president, Felix Kulov who is serving a lengthy prison sentence.


In doing so, it is believed that Akaev has left himself vulnerable to the growing dissent in southern Kyrgyzstan, where the political establishment accuse him of systematically ignoring the region's economic and political needs.


In effect, Akaev has been left one-on-one with an enormous region which will no longer accept belated explanations and apologies. Only his family can support him in this political crisis as the battered northern political elite prefers the role of spectator," commented parliamentary deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov.


However, government supporters strongly reject such claims, even denying there is a political crisis. Karybek Baibosunov, the deputy director of the Kyrgyz president's International Institute for Strategic Research, believes that the Aksy events are evidence that certain political groups are attempting to provoke chaos in order to further their prospects in presidential elections in three years time.


"It's clear that they're trying to use the 'southern card' and physical force to put pressure on the authorities," he said.


The same opinion is held by parliamentary deputy Aidarbek Kerimkulov. "We ourselves, through a majority of votes, elected the leadership of this country and we have to respect it. What sort of state will this be if, on any grounds whatsoever, we can call for the resignation of the leadership of the country?" he said.


However, others close to the centre of power believe it is only a matter of time before Akaev departs. "There's no doubt that trust in Akaev has been used up. He has to name his heir and resign in the very near future. Only that could stabilise the situation in the country," said one highly placed northern official, who preferred not to be named.


Sultan Jumagulov is an IWPR contributor


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