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Concern that Opposition Demo Will Turn Violent

By News Briefing Central Asia
Despite assurances from opposition leaders and representatives of the authorities that they will not allow an open-ended demonstration which begins on April 11 to get out of hand, people in Kyrgyzstan are increasingly worried that the protests might turn violent.

In an address to the nation on April 10, President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced that when the opposition rally begins on April 11, tough measures will be taken to uphold the law if there is any threat to the public.

Five days beforehand, Felix Kulov, leader of the United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan, said rally organisers would not let things get out of hand and insisted the protest would be a peaceful one.

Interior Minister Bolotbek Nogoibaev said police will only use riot equipment such as tear gas, stun grenades and batons if it becomes absolutely necessary, and officers deployed to keep order in central Bishkek will not be carrying firearms.

Despite such reassurances, commentators say there is considerable public unease about the protests, during which some 50,000 people are expected to gather in the capital to demand early presidential elections and constitutional reform.

“Ordinary citizens are definitely worried… and businessmen more than anyone else. No one can give guarantees as to how things will go during the protests,” said Atay Namatbaev, an expert with the Politics, Religion and Security Research Centre.

Namatbaev noted that politicians and the media often use alarming terminology, talking of civil war, the “Tajikistan scenario” – meaning a repetition of that country’s 1992-97 civil war – a north-south split in Kyrgyzstan, and the rise of organised crime groups.

Political scientist Marat Kazakbaev added, “The level of anxiety is very high because everyone is in the dark.”

According to analysts, both sides are flexing their muscles. The authorities are talking of riot gear, while the opposition has gathered several hundred horsemen on the outskirts of Bishkek for a “kokboru” match – the national sport, played on horseback.

At the same time, the authorities seem have the upper hand. Any deliberate attempt to whip up the demonstration will damage the opposition.

“This would immediately be the signal for the security services to use coercive measures,” said Kazakbaev.

But according to Alymbek Bialinov, the director of the Eurasia Analysis Center, the authorities would be making a big mistake if they allowed the police to use force. “It would provoke a violent reaction from the protesters, who might then clash with police…. The consequences would be hard to predict, but they would be bad,” he said.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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