Kyrgyzstan: Protesters Driven Out of Bishkek

Authorities scupper opposition congress by rounding up participants and bussing them out of the city.

Kyrgyzstan: Protesters Driven Out of Bishkek

Authorities scupper opposition congress by rounding up participants and bussing them out of the city.

Protesters who descended on Bishkek at the weekend for an opposition conference were rounded up by the authorities and driven out of the capital before they could attend the gathering.

It came as analysts voiced concern over President Askar Akaev's reluctance to address his critics' concerns and his tendency to use violent means to suppress any dissent.

The unrest in the former Soviet republic shows no sign of subsiding, and there are fears that this latest incident will lead to further protests in the south of the country.

The marchers - the majority of whom had traveled from the Aksy region, where six unarmed protestors were shot dead by police in March of this year - had traveled to the capital in small numbers so as not to alert the authorities.

They gathered on the outskirts of Bishkek on November 15, and planned to march on the city centre the following day to attend a People's Congress.

Around 200 protesters gathered near the Osh market in central Bishkek on the morning of the gathering, but were quickly dispersed by police who arrested 129 of them. The latter were held in custody for 24 hours, before being bussed out of the city.

Aksy protester Nurdin Chokoev told journalists that the authorities had "revealed their true colours" by putting the elderly and women behind bars. "This shameful event proved to us that officials will continue to suppress our freedom," he shouted from the window of a bus.

Well-known human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov and opposition politician Usen Sydykov - who was recently barred from contesting Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elelctions - were among those detained.

A Bishkek court charged the duo with staging an illegal demonstration. Akunov was sentenced to ten days in prison while Sydykov was fined 2000 som - around 43 US dollars.

Commenting on the incident, the government called the opposition "a bunch of subversives who want to plunge the nation into civil conflict" in order to seize power. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev said the authorities would deal firmly with anyone who threatened revolt.

Local analysts believe that the People's Congress - where the protesters hoped to raise the question of responsibility for the bloodshed in Aksy - had been sabotaged by the authorities.

Akaev's public relations adviser Bolot Januzakov described the gathering as as "illegitimate", because he said it did not represent all the regions of the country. "A handful of radical deputies are pushing the unhappy masses to topple the current government," he said.

First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov told IWPR that the opposition planned to use the congress to destabilise Kyrgyzstan.

Opposition deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, one of the organisers of the gathering, described the accusation as absurd. "We intended to have a peaceful event and invite the highest officials to discuss ways out of the crisis together," he told IWPR.

Many politicians and analysts believe that the arrest and forcible transportation of the protesters may lead to yet more demonstrations in southern Kyrgystan.

Marat Sultanov, leader of the liberal El Uchun party, told IWPR that the atmosphere in Bishkek was growing tense. Sultanov said the government's practice of allowing pro-authority rallies in the capital's main squares while denying opposition groups the right to speak out was "outrageous".

"Injustice has been the main cause of all this year's protests, and sadly the authorities are repeating their mistakes," he said.

Sultan Jumangulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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