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Kyrgyz Politicians Feel Public's Wrath

Wave of violence as ordinary people dispense their own brand of justice against wealthy politicians.
By Sultan Jumagulov

As some 200 protesters, many of them wielding sticks and pieces of metal, descended on the Alai hotel in Osh on the afternoon of June 13, the situation suddenly took a turn for the worse.

“Bottles containing flammable substances were thrown, exploding as they fell next to us,” Zamira Erkebaeva, who was in the crowd at the time, told IWPR.

“Suddenly they started shooting at us. At first we thought they were firing blanks, but it turned out the guns were loaded with real bullets.”

Up to twelve people were injured in the clashes with a crowd that had gathered in support of the hotel’s owner, high-profile businessman and parliamentary deputy Bayaman Erkinbaev. Police say one person died from a gunshot wound.

The protest outside the Alai hotel was just the latest in a wave of violent disturbances in Kyrgyzstan in the last couple of weeks, with the public dispensing their own brand of justice against wealthy politicians.

Elsewhere, a market belonging to Erkinbaev, who survived an assassination attempt in April, was looted. And demonstrators seized a coal mine owned by another parliamentary deputy, Kamchybek Joldoshbaev.

A third man, Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev, became the first ever member of the Kyrgyz parliament to be assassinated.

Exactly how the Alai hotel protest turned violent is still a matter of controversy.

Erkebaeva and Jenishbek Ashyrbaev, the head of the Osh police press service, agree that the shooting came from a car outside the building. But other reports say that hotel’s security staff, and demonstrators themselves, opened fire.

There is also some dispute about the casualty figures. A doctor at a city hospital, who wished to remain anonymous, told IWPR that six victims had been admitted, some of whom had been shot. Other reports suggest that twelve people were injured.

According to Ashyrbaev, one of the wounded later died in hospital.

In the days after the clashes, the head of the Osh interior affairs department was removed from his position for failing to handle the situation properly.

These events came just three days after some 500 people descended on Erkinbaev’s wholesale market in Karasuu, on the border with Uzbekistan, on June 10. Chanting “Bayaman, clear off!” they demanded that the deputy give up his interests in the major frontier marketplace.

His public image, which has been in decline for some time, took a further tumble recently when he raised rents for stallholders at the Karasuu market.

But the deputy, currently president of Kyrgyzstan’s National Olympic Committee, told IWPR that he has done nothing to deserve the recent attacks on his property.

“The Alai hotel and the Karasuu market belong to me, they were privatised legally,” he said. “My hotel was stormed by the same people who stormed my office at the Karasuu market. These thugs include many people with a criminal past and very young people who understand nothing of the situation.”

Erkinbaev went on to allege that the protests were the result of a high-level political conspiracy against him.

“The initiators of the disturbances were the head of the Karasuu regional administration and the head of the district police, this is proved by extensive video footage,” he said.

“With full responsibility,” he went on, “I can state that the political order came... from the head of the presidential administration Usen Sydykov... In this way, Sydykov wants to remove me from active politics, to rid himself of a formidable opponent in the future.”

But Erkinbaev is by no means the only wealthy politician to have felt the wrath of the Kyrgyz public of late.

On June 6, Joldoshbaev’s Karakeche coal mine in the northern Naryn region was seized by 200 people claiming to be members of the Patriotic People’s Movement (Joomart).

Joomart leader Nurlan Motuev told IWPR that the commandeering of the mine was part of an attempt to redistribute property in a just way following March’s popular revolution.

“Corrupt officials and foreigners fed off the profit from this coal mine,” he told IWPR. “From now on 70 per cent of the profit will go to local residents and the state can take the remaining 30 per cent.

“Some people say these actions are illegal, that we have seized private property. I couldn’t care less about these laws, which were written during [former president] Askar Akaev’s rule! What did we bring about a revolution for?”

Motuev also told journalists that three days earlier, on June 3, his organisation had seized storage facilities, equipment, keys, documents and mines belonging to Joldshobaev’s Besh-Sary firm, as well as those owned by another private firm Ak-Jol and by the Meerim foundation, which is the property of former first lady Mairam Akaeva.

A special state commission sent to Karakeche on June 15 met with an angry crowd on its arrival. And some members of mine owners’ families have also been involved in armed clashes with demonstrators.

The Kyrgyz parliament discussed the issue of the Karakeche mine – which remains under the control of the protesters – on June 16, and will continue to do so on June 21 in the presence of acting prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev.

This same period also saw the shooting of Surabaldiev in broad daylight in the middle of Bishkek on June 10. Four days later, the deputy’s daughter Elvira addressed journalists at a press conference.

“My father was offered a deal to hand all his enterprises over to several people at quite a high level,” she claimed, “but he refused.”

Surabaldieva said that after her father’s death, people began coming forward to claim his property – including the Kudaibergen and Azamat car markets and a ceramics factory in Sokuluk.

“Since the March revolution people have gained faith in justice and objectivity - they see how much injustice there was during the privatisation of national property,” head of the National Security Service Tashtemir Aitbaev told IWPR.

“Unfortunately, certain individuals take uncivilised, more drastic forms of restoring justice,” he added. “And people have also appeared who, exploiting the current situation, wish to take an active part in redistributing property.”

Sultan Jumagulov is a correspondent for the BBC in Bishkek. Aida Kasymalieva is also based in Bishkek as a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service.