Kyrgyzstan: Protesters March on Capital

Hundreds of demonstrators are determined to break through police barricades to attend an opposition congress this weekend.

Kyrgyzstan: Protesters March on Capital

Hundreds of demonstrators are determined to break through police barricades to attend an opposition congress this weekend.

Dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested on the outskirts of Bishkek Friday, November 15, as they attempted to march on the capital to attend an opposition gathering.

More than a thousand protesters rallied outside the city on the eve of the People's Congress, which is due to take place on Saturday.

Confusion remains over the number of marchers who have been detained. Local media say that 30 people had been arrested, while an interior ministry spokesperson put the figure at 14.

The two sides are now locked in a stand-off outside the capital, and deputy security minister Boris Poluektov has warned that "harsh measures" will be used against the demonstrators if they defy the authorities.

The majority had traveled from the southern Aksy district to protest over the government's failure to punish high-ranking officials deemed responsible for the deaths of six locals during a rally in March.

However, for the first time, they were joined by protesters from the Osh region, angered by the barring of politician Usen Sydykov from recent elections, and followers of the jailed opposition leader Felix Kulov, who are mostly based near the capital.

The activists seemed to have learned their lessons after the last abortive march on the capital, which came to a halt several hundred km from Bishkek and dispersed after the government made a number of concessions.

This time, there was no advance publicity to tip off the authorities, with the protesters arriving in small numbers and settling into safe houses in the suburbs before meeting up to march on the capital.

The demonstrators walked for several hours, shouting slogans such as "President Akaev Must Resign!"; "Death to those shooting their own people!"; "For the sake of justice - go forward!". But the police erected a series of barricades and the march came to a halt on the outskirts of the city.

The Bishkek prosecutor and interior ministry chiefs have denounced the demonstration as illegal, while human rights activist Tursunbek Akunov in turn accused the government of violating both Kyrgyz and international laws.

"The authorities are infringing our constitutional right to express ourselves by means of peaceful meetings and marches," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev, Bishkek mayor Medetbek Kerimkulov and presidential adviser Bolot Januzakov warned the protesters that they had to disperse immediately.

Parliamentary deputies Azimbek Beknazarov, Bektur Asanov and the banned election candidate Sydykov asked for the march to be allowed to continue peacefully.

This request was firmly rejected, as was the marchers' appeal to be allowed to set up a roadside camp. The authorities switched off the street lights prompting the group return to their lodgings.

"We wanted to stay here, but it was too dangerous. Anything could have happened to us in the dark," one elderly marcher from Asky told IWPR.

"But after our sons and fathers, brothers and relatives were shot in Aksy, we are not afraid of anything or anyone. We are even ready to accept death for the sake of justice."

Parliament deputy and army general Ismail Isakov, leader of the opposition movement For the Resignation of Akaev and Reforms for the People, places the blame for Kyrgyzstan's troubled political situation squarely on the shoulders of the current leadership.

"These are the people who have forced you to go so far," he told the marchers. "You should be able to confront them."

The stalemate has left Beknazarov, the popular deputy whose brief imprisonment at the start of the year sparked the protests that led to the deaths in Aksy, deeply frustrated.

"For nine months, the government has been making different excuses why it has ignored the Aksy people's request - that those ultimately responsible for the bloodshed be punished," he told IWPR. "It is now apparent that they are not going to charge anyone."

However, the authorities hit back by accusing the opposition of trying to destabilise the republic. Prime Minister Nikolay Tanaev blamed "irresponsible politicians, who use people's protests to attain their goals".

President Askar Akaev's public relations adviser Bolot Januzakov told IWPR that the government had already met many of the Aksy protesters' demands.

He said, several people, including the head of the presidential administration, an interior minister, the Kyrgyz general prosecutor and several officials from the Jalal-Abad oblast and Aksy district, have since been dismissed from their posts.

But the government's critics say the aforementioned officials were merely transferred to other jobs, some of which were more senior than the ones they had.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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