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Kyrgyz Opposition Cries Foul After Akaev Poll Win

Akaev opponents insist they have been targeted since the president coasted to victory in a referendum earlier this month.
By Sultan Jumagulov

Opposition forces in Kyrgyzstan claim they have fallen victim to an officially-inspired campaign of intimidation since President Akaev won a thumping victory in a constitutional referendum held on February 2.

Official results declared almost 80 per cent of those casting ballots had lent backing to President Akaev's proposed changes, which the opposition says restrict civil liberties. The referendum also extended the president's term in office.

Prior to the plebiscite, many opposition groups had been campaigning vigorously for the president to resign - and some now suggest the poll result has led him to believe that he can subdue his rivals with impunity.

Ismail Isakov, leader of a movement called "For the resignation of Akaev and reforms for the people", told parliament on February 21 that unknown assailants had attacked his home earlier that day.

He said they hurled petrol-soaked bags into his garden, yelling insults and covered his house with abusive graffiti.

Isakov said the attacks were linked to his role in the preparation of an appeal by parliamentary deputies to the constitutional court over a controversial border agreement signed with China in 2001 that ceded some territory to Beijing.

The day before the attack on February 20, Isakov had appeared before the court to demand the annulment of parliament's ratification of the deal.

Isakov had already requested the interior ministry and the National Security Service, NSS - the successor to the KGB - to guarantee protection of his home and his personal security, warning that if this was not forthcoming he would urge his supporters to do the job.

"The authorities will do anything to silence me and my supporters," he told IWPR. "After my speech to the constitutional court, they realised the opposition was not about to give in, so they started resorting to dirty tactics."

Emil Aliev, head of the Arnamys party, said his members had been abruptly forced from their premises on February 9 by the landlords. Aliev said he was convinced the authorities had interfered.

"We recently rented several rooms in the city centre, but then the landlords unilaterally terminated the agreements," party officials explained. Aliev heralded the move as the "first sign of a large-scale offensive by the authorities against the opposition".

Felix Kulov set up Arnamys in 1999. A prominent political activist, former vice-president and national security minister, he has been incarcerated in an investigative detention centre belonging to the NSS for two years.

The authorities have accused Kulov of committing grave crimes during his tenure in a number of top jobs. The opposition claims the country's leaders jailed him out of fears that he might unite them into a powerful force.

In other alleged government moves against the opposition, Emil Aliev, the leader of the Atameken party, Omurbek Tekebaev and the deputy head of the Democractic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, Jypar Jeksheev, have been summoned to police stations on suspicion of kidnapping a voter on referendum day.

The three politicians insist they never kidnapped anyone, and that their real crime was to identify a voter who had broken the law. The three have disclosed a video recording to the media, which shows a voter admitting on camera that he had voted several times at different polling stations after being threatened with the loss of his job.

The politicians were in charge of the opposition parties' monitoring of the referendum process. They maintained that less than 40 per cent of the electorate had turned out to vote and that the result lacked any legitimacy.

However, most political commentators accept that that despite doubts over the poll, the result had significantly bolstered the president and his allies.

After the result was declared, Akaev proclaimed that the efforts of his opponents to engineer a confrontation between the general public and the leadership had failed.

Kuban Mambetaliev, a member of a journalists' association, said the referendum marked a change in the political fortunes of the embattled president and his foes. "Throughout last year the opposition was on the offensive and the authorities were on the defensive," he said. "Now they have swapped places."

The government, meanwhile, has denied that it has been harassing and intimidating the opposition in the wake of the referendum.

The head of the president's security and defense section, Bolot Januzakov, has declared that the events of which the opposition complains have nothing to do with the government.

"These incidents have no connection to politics," he said. "What happened to the Isakov family home was pure hooliganism, and it will be investigated by the police."

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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