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Kyrgyzstan: Annan Visit Provokes Demos

Authorities keep opposition protesters well away from visiting UN chief.
By Sultan Jumagulov

Opposition and human rights activists have hit out at the Kyrgyz government after they were prevented from meeting the United Nations secretary general.


Kofi Annan's first visit to Kyrgyzstan this week, part of a tour of Central Asia, prompted a series of demonstrations in Bishkek designed to draw his attention to human rights abuses and political persecution in the republic.


Some independent journalists claimed the authorities did everything in their power to make sure the UN chief remained unaware of the protesters, who were driven back, arrested and then released as soon as he left the country.


The Kyrgyz police and special forces were well prepared for Annan's arrival, cordoning off the area around the local UN office, where the secretary general was due to meet officials.


According to a report from the opposition Ar-Namys, Dignity, party - whose leader Felix Kulov has been in a prison since the beginning of 2001 - the police arrested 22 of its members who tried to force their way through into the building.


"Our people only wanted to inform Annan about political persecution and violations of human rights in Kyrgyzstan," said Ar-Namys leader Emil Aliev.


Party member Japar Bekberdiev told IWPR that he had travelled to the capital from the remote Kara-Bura region of Talass oblast in the hope of meeting Annan, but was detained at a police station. "We had placed great hope in the secretary general. We wanted to ask him to influence our government to free Kulov, who has been held in prison illegally," he said


While Kyrgyzstan is considered to be one of the more democratic Central Asian states, local commentators believe 2002 has been marked by unprecedented violations of civil rights and persecution of the opposition. Activists note with irony that such abuses are taking place during what President Askar Akaev has dubbed the "Year of Human Rights".


In another demonstration aimed at drawing Annan's attention, more than 350 people from Jalal-Abad oblast held a protest in front of Bishkek's Government House in support of police officials currently standing trial in connection with the deaths of six civilians at a rally in the southern town of Aksy on March 17.


Their supporters are angry that these officers are carrying the can while the higher government officials who gave the order for force to be used remain in their posts.


Despite the demonstrations, the government media proclaimed Annan's visit a success.


During his time in Bishkek, he was presented with the Manas Order of the First Degree - Kyrgyzstan's highest honour - for his contribution to consolidating world peace, and for his efforts to help the republic forge stronger relations with the UN.


The president and the secretary general also discussed issues such as regional security, poverty reduction and efforts to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS. Progress appears to have been made, but the opposition is fuming that Annan left the republic without hearing the other side of the Bishkek story.


"Foreign officials always leave Kyrgyzstan with kind words and promises from Akaev, and thus have a one-sided perception of the real human rights situation in our country," said Aziza Abdrasulova, the head of the Erkindik (Freedom) party.


Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek


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