Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyzstan: Opposition Divided After Failed March

Cracks start to show in the opposition after the much-hyped Aksy-Bishkek march peters out.
By Kubat Otorbaev

Recriminations are flying among Kyrgyz opposition leaders after a protest march demanding the resignation of the country's president failed to reach Bishkek.

The much-hyped demonstration, from the southern village of Asky to the capital, was abandoned mid-September when government and opposition figures signed a secret accord, under which officials made undisclosed concessions to the protesters who in turn agreed to disperse.

Parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov - whose brief detention at the beginning of the year sparked a series of protests that culminated in the Aksy-Bishkek march - was one of the signatories and is now facing a series of attacks from his supposed supporters.

The politician has since taken his case to the national press in an attempt to explain the events and refute allegations that the protest leaders were bribed to stay away from the capital.

Beknazarov said that the authorities have promised to meet one of the protesters' major demands - the punishment of police officers responsible for the deaths of six people attending a March 17 rally in Aksy, which sparked the revolt. Legal proceedings against eight political activists will also be halted.

But there was no progress on two of the protesters' other demands - namely the annulment of agreements relinquishing disputed border areas to China and the release of jailed opposition activist Felix Kulov.

The march came to a halt when several hundred protesters reached the city of Kara-Kul, 200 km south of Bishkek, where they were met by a government sponsored 1,500-strong counter demonstration.

Parliamentary speaker Altai Borubaev, First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov and internal affairs minister Bakirdin Subanbekov then led a series of negotiations which resulted in the accord and the peaceful dispersal of the march.

In a separate deal made at the same time, each protester was given 2,000 soms (45 US dollars) as "compensation" for food and possessions confiscated by the authorities - a move seen by Beknazarov's critics as "bribery".

While the Kyrgyz public seems pleased that a violent confrontation was avoided, Beknazarov and his fellow leaders have been viciously attacked by some of their supporters.

Human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov, who has been involved with the events in Aksy throughout, told IWPR that Beknazarov had made compromises without consulting other participants.

"Beknazarov has distanced himself from the people who secured his release through demonstrations and hunger strikes," Akunov said, clearly angered. "It has become apparent that he is under the thumb of the authorities."

He called the 2,000 som payments "a stain of shame that cannot be washed away".

Beknazarov, speaking to local press this week, said the decision to sign the accord was taken after full consultation with members of the Movement for the Resignation of Akaev and Reforms for the People, an opposition coalition that was set up after the Aksy deaths.

"Many people regard me almost as a traitor, but I had no other choice," he said. "Those who were in Kara-Kul know we were up against people who were looking for fight. The smallest provocation would have led to bloodshed."

Beknazarov insisted that he did not ask for money in return for the march dispersing. " I only demanded compensation for the demonstrators because their belongings had been taken away," he said.

Ismail Isakov, a parliamentary deputy and leader of the Movement for the Resignation of Akaev and Reforms for the People, backed Beknazarov.

"I suspect that the government itself spread the rumour that money was received to stop the march," he told IWPR, insisting that the movement had not given up its fight against the authorities.

The government denies the charge. "The authorities took an official decision to pay social welfare to families who suffered during the Aksy tragedy. I know nothing of any other payments," Osmonov told IWPR.

Rina Prijivoit, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Moya stolitsa - novosti, told IWPR that the incident revealed weaknesses in both the authorities and opposition, but suggested that the latter has suffered worst.

"You could say that for the moment, the opposition in the form of the Movement for the Resignation of Akaev and Reforms for the People has been defeated," Prijivoiy said.

Jailed opposition leader Kulov, however, sees the incident as a victory because the authorities were forced to sit down and negotiate. "The people still triumphed, as they achieved the fulfilment of their main demands," he told Moya stolitsa - novosti from his prison cell.

"The government did everything in its power to suppress any signs of dissatisfaction among the people. But it was all in vain. In the end, the authorities gave in and admitted their powerlessness."

Kubat Otorbaev is an independent journalist in Bishkek