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Kyrgyzstan: Anti-Government Anger Grows

Opposition warns of "extreme measures" if those responsible for Aksy protesters' deaths are not punished.
By Sultan Jumagulov

The unveiling of a monument to protesters who died at the hands of police in southern Kyrgyzstan

has sparked another surge of anti-government anger and further calls for the dismissal of President Askar Akaev.

Opening of the monument in memory of the six protesters killed in Aksy, South Kyrgyzstan on March 17-18, 2002.
Photo by Vladimir Pirogov, Moya stolitza-novosti, Kyrgyzstan.
The fresh trouble broke out on July 17 in the Aksy village of Bospiek, where police shot dead six civilians during a March protest against the jailing of popular local deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who had criticised Akaev over territorial concessions to neighbouring China.

More than ten thousand people came to see the monument unveiled at the site of the shootings - an unusually high number for Kyrgyzstan, whose democratic reputation has waned over the last few years.

Film director and parliamentary deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbaev set the tone for the ceremony with a long and emotional speech in which he accused the president and his followers of having blood on their hands. "After shooting their own citizens, Akaev and his government have neither the political nor the moral right to remain in power," he declared, to wild applause.

The granite monument is inscribed with the words, "Fallen at the hands of the authorities". Speakers at the meeting claimed that the words were somehow erased during the transport of the memorial, but were restored by local sculptors.

The gathering was also attended by government ministers who tried in vain to calm the crowd. When Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov urged protesters not to give way to raw emotion, he was barracked until he backed down and left the scene. Abdygany Erkebaev, the speaker of the parliament's legislative chamber, departed immediately after the unveiling.

Leaders of almost all opposition parties came to the nearby town of Kerben for an opposition congress the following day.

Here, even more vehement demands were raised for the resignation of Akaev and harsh punishment for those responsible for the Aksy killings. A mass protest march in Bishkek was organised for the beginning of autumn.

Anger was also directed at parliament for passing a law to amnesty those accused of the protesters' deaths. Anaraly Nazarbekov, speaking on behalf of Aksy residents who suffered in the shootings, issued a thinly veiled threat to take direct action against the pardoned police officers.

Warning that people would now "use their own discretion" in dealing with the police, he said, "We regard the amnesty law as an insult to the people who suffered. This is just another example of the government's injustice towards the Aksy victims. Naturally, this attitude pushes us to take extreme measures."

Following the congress, opposition forces passed a resolution demanding the resignation of Akaev and a snap presidential election. The resolution also called for repeal of the amnesty law, a halt to persecution of dissidents and the release of jailed opposition leader Felix Kulov.

Topchubek Turgunaliev, a representative of the Erkindik party and a sworn enemy of President Akaev, stressed several times that the Aksy tragedy has hastened the end of the present regime. "The unveiling of the monument and the national congress showed that Akaev faces opposition from the entire population," Turgunaliev told IWPR.

"Kyrgyz are by nature a peace-loving and just. But they do not stand for injustice. The government has acted very unfairly towards its people and now it will pay dearly."

Some of those who attended the Bospiek meeting were unhappy that the memorial ceremony had been turned into a political event. Sania Sagnaeva, an analyst at the International Centre for Avoiding Crises in Central Asia, described the extreme demands made there as inappropriate. "People came to mourn their fellow citizens and pay tribute to their memory. It was amoral to exploit this moment to incite anti-government emotions," she said.

The rallies follow a recent forum of civil society leaders in Bishkek aimed at allowing dialogue between government and opposition forces. It urged both sides to refrain from any action that might cause further upheaval.

The Kyrgyz government planned to hold its own round table conference with the country's political forces on July 26. Additionally, the authorities decided to mark the anniversary of 19th century national hero Tailak-batyr on July 27 along the shore of the Son-Kul mountain lake. Organisers of the celebration hope it will promote reconciliation, but few believe there is much chance of that.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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