Kyrgyzstan: Protesters Hit the Road

Demonstrators from the south of the country ignore warnings of possible bloodshed and head for Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan: Protesters Hit the Road

Demonstrators from the south of the country ignore warnings of possible bloodshed and head for Bishkek.

Anti-government protesters in southern Kyrgyzstan are marching on the capital to demand President Askar Akaev's dismissal - despite fears that further demonstrations may end in bloodshed.

The decision to proceed to Bishkek was taken during an Independence Day commemoration in the village of Bospiek in the Asky region where hundreds of people gathered to mourn six people killed in clashes with police in March.

As RCA went to press, the protesters - said to be several hundred - were reported tohave reached the town of Tash-Komur in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Observers see it as an effort to ensure that human rights and democratic reforms are on the agenda when Akaev visits the United States at the end of the month.

Protests first erupted in the Aksy region in the Jalal-Abad Oblast early in the year over the detention of parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. After six unarmed demonstrators were shot dead by the police, Beknazarov was released and the government stood down but local residents are angered that no one has been held personally responsible.

As well as Akaev, residents point the finger at Amanbek Karypkulov, the former head of the presidential administration, Temirbek Akmataliev, the former minister of internal affairs, and chief government ideologist Osmonakun Ibraimov.

Ibraimov still holds his position and while the other two officials lost their jobs after the Asky incident, they were quickly appointed to other, no less important, posts. The move has done little to assuage protesters fury. "The anger of the Aksy residents and their supporters knows no bounds," said Tajimamat Turaliev, a representative from the Committee to Protect the Rights of Deputy Beknazarov.

"The president has not delivered on his promise to punish the officials who allowed the bloodshed to happen. What's more these people continue to hold high governmental posts and this was the last straw. Now no one and nothing can stop us."

The editor-in-chief of the newspaper Moya Stolitsa - Novosti, Rina Prizhivoit, who was in the region at the time of the commemoration, says that resolve appears strong. "From talking to the Asky residents, you feel that many of them no longer have anything to lose," she said.

Akaev's public relations adviser General Bolot Januzakov has dismissed the march as an act of political extremism on behalf of a small, radical opposition. "We have information that the majority of the population does not support the march to Bishkek," he told IWPR.

"Power-mad radicals are forcing the situation and exploiting the sorrow of some Aksy residents. We are certain that the march to the capital will not be a success, as a huge number of people want peace in the country."

In a televised speech on the eve of Independence Day, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev announced that a stash of weapons had been found in the Jalal-Abad Oblast. He called on Aksy residents not to be "swayed by propaganda" to march on Bishkek and warned that it could lead to further violence.

Opposition groups in turn fear that the authorities may deliberately provoke disorder so that they can announce a state of emergency in the south and possibly throughout the country. There is further concern that the march has the potential to turn into a confrontation between the south and north.

Parliamentary deputy Kubatbek Baibolov told IWPR that there is an impression that the authorities themselves are trying to pit northerners against southerners, following a number of government-organised pro-Akaev rallies that made serious allegations against the opposition figures - the majority of which come from the south.

Niyazala Bekberdinov, coordinator of the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee for the Chui Oblast, believes a unity of purpose exists across the country and thinks northerners may even offer the marchers assistance in the way of food and shelter.

"Northerners and southerners alike think that the government is corrupt and hopelessly alienated from the people, and so the Aksy march may turn into mass demonstrations against the current leadership across the entire country," she said.

Well-known civil rights activist Yrysbek Omurzakov told IWPR that the country was headed for uncharted political territory, saying, "The government is in a stupor and the opposition is on the attack. No one can foresee what will happen in the very near future."

Amid such tension and uncertainty, parliamentary deputy Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the socialist party Ata-Meken, has appealed for calm. "We shouldn't panic before the event, as everyone needs to be given the chance to be heard, to express their desires," he said.

"If everyone acts calmly, the demonstrations will not lead to disturbances. Instead, everyone will learn a lesson from this - the leadership, the opposition, and the people."

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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