Kyrgyz Remember Aksy Deaths

Opposition shows no sign of easing pressure on President Akaev's regime one year on from rally that shook the republic.

Kyrgyz Remember Aksy Deaths

Opposition shows no sign of easing pressure on President Akaev's regime one year on from rally that shook the republic.

One year annivesary of the anti-government demonstration in Bospiek (Aksy district), March 17 '03

The people of Aksy, where five demonstrators were killed in an anti-government protest twelve months ago, have vowed to continue calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Locals issued the pledge at a March 17 gathering in the village of Bospiek commemorating the first anniversary of the deaths. They also called for the resignation of President Askar Akaev, whom they blame for allowing the bloodshed to happen.

From early morning, people carrying banners and placards reading "Aksy people struggle not for power, but for justice" moved in columns to a monument built in honour of those who died during clashes with police.

Local residents told IWPR that, on the eve of the anniversary, graffiti written in red paint was discovered on rocks near the memorial. The words spelled out dire threats to the ruling regime.

It is estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 people traveled to the remote southern district in the Jalal-Abad region to join in the emotional ceremony, also attended by representatives from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, Freedom House, and the United States embassy in Kyrgyzstan among others.

Emil Aliev, who leads the opposition party Arnamys (Dignity), told the gathering, "You managed to prove to the authorities that the majority's need for freedom and justice cannot be suppressed by force - and you deserve public respect in all regions of the country."

Commemorative meetings were held on the same day in the capital Bishkek and other large cities across the former Soviet republic.

While the government was not represented at any of these gatherings, Aksy state administration head Abdymalik Egemberdiev told IWPR that officials had visited the families of those who died on the eve of the anniversary. "The state continues to assist the victims of the Aksy tragedy," he said.

The deaths came about after a series of clashes between police and local people protesting over the detention of popular opposition parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who was facing an abuse of office charge which his supporters suspected was politically motivated.

Beknazarov's supporters and human rights activists held marches and hunger strikes after his arrest in January 2002, demanding his release. The lengthy confrontation with the authorities - who had banned demonstrations in the area - resulted in a final bloody clash with police.

Following the deaths, the authorities were compelled to release Beknazarov and sack several high-placed officials.

But this did not satisfy the protestors, who demanded that those responsible for giving the order to use force be called to account. As a result, several former local public prosecutors and police chiefs were arrested. They were found guilty of exceeding their authority and received small jail sentences.

But the people of Aksy continued to press the authorities, calling for the convicted mens' superiors to be put on trial. Subsequent protests spilled over into neighbouring regions, culminating in the abortive "Great March" to Bishkek, whose participant urged the president to resign.

The Bishkek leadership has always claimed that the Aksy tragedy was used by radical opposition activists as a pretext to attack the regime. Prime Minister Nikolay Tanaev called upon the public not give in to appeals "of some political leaders, particular deputies and a handful of plotters that have joined them, pushing the people into an abyss of civil discord".

On the anniversary of the Aksy demonstration, some of the independent press commented that it was evidence the county had a long way to go before it achieves political stability.

And with a new group formed during the anniversary meeting - the Society of Mothers - already planning a new wave of protests, the tragedy looks set to reverberate through Kyrgyz society for some time to come.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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