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Kyrgyzstan: Protesting About Everything

Seizing government buildings has becoming a regular activity for protestors who feel they have no other way of being heard.
By IWPR Central Asia

The revolution may be over in Kyrgyzstan, but people inspired by the ousting of President Askar Akaev are still storming state buildings to get their point across.

So far, a 300-strong mob has attempted to seize the National Security Service headquarters, and the chairman of the supreme court has been forced to resign after the court building was taken over by angry protestors.

All this has led to dire warnings of civil unrest and calls for the new administration to crack down before the turmoil spreads further.

The protestors, however, are disappointed that the revolution that they helped spark seems to have changed little, and say they have no other way of forcing the government to listen to their concerns.

In the supreme court seizure, 300 voters from five constituencies had been picketing the building since April 14 to protest against judicial decisions that led to some candidates being excluded from the recent parliamentary elections.

On April 22, about 60 of them moved in, occupying the court and forcing out the staff. Protestor Jenishbek Abykanov said both the invaders and court security personnel remained calm.

“I’m thankful that the soldiers from the National Guard did not use force or weapons but showed understanding for the ordinary people and let us in,” said Abykanov. “We call this not a seizure of the court, but a demand for justice.

“The seizure of administrative buildings is the only way to attract the attention of the country’s leadership to our problems, as the voice of the people does not reach them.”

Jyldyz Duishenkulova from the Issykata district added, “For days, no one from the new regime came out to us, and our case was not examined. We had to draw attention to ourselves in this manner. People’s patience has come to an end. Many of the people who have gathered here are prepared to set themselves on fire.”

Supreme court head Kurmanbek Osmonov was forced to reconvene the court in a Bishkek park, where he resigned on April 25.

Days earlier, Osmonov had inflamed the situation by inviting the protestors into the court building for a meeting to discuss their concerns, then disappearing.

“He took us into the reception room and asked us to wait while he went over to parliament to ask for advice. He didn’t come back. His aides said he had fallen ill,” said a man who identified himself only as Maksat.

Despite Osmonov’s resignation, on April 27 protestors from around Kyrgyzstan were once again gathering outside the court.

The same day, between 150 and 200 people surrounded parliament and the government building, the White House, to demand the resignation of the newly appointed head of the NSS, Tashtemir Aitbaev.

They also demonstated outside NSS headquarters, one of the most inaccessible and well-guarded buildings in Kyrgyzstan.

This demonstration was sparked by the arrest of four young men from the town of Karabalta on weapons charges.

After a two day picket of the NSS building - which included a break-in attempt during which several dozen women got into the building’s yard - the men were released after promising not to leave their homes.

Elsewhere on April 27, a small scale demonstration was held on the capital’s Alatoo Square demanding the allocation of land to citizens of Bishkek who have none.

“If the authorities do not solve this issue favourably… we will start to divide up the land ourselves,” said Nazarbek Nyshanov, a protest leader. “There are around 80,000 of us in the whole city. If the authorities start hindering us, then we are preparing to seize the building of the government, which is not solving these issues.”

Kalicha Muralieva, who participated in the supreme court demonstration, expects the protests to continue as long as people feel they are effective and that they have no way of being heard.

“On 24 March the genie was released from the bottle,” she said.

“The people were shown by example that half the city and the government building can be ransacked, and no one will be punished for this. When people see these methods, they realise that if they cannot solve the problem constitutionally and legally, then why not do it this way? The authorities themselves put weapons into people’s hands – cobblestones.

“We seized the supreme court, and Osmonov resigned, so that means the method is effective.”

However, the constant unrest since last month’s “tulip revolution” is being described in some quarters as “anarchy” and as proof that the new government is losing control.

“The country is heading towards civil war,” warned parliamentary deputy Melis Eshimkanov. “All this shows that the new regime is going through a crisis.”

Deputy Marat Sultanov doubts that some of the protestors are even legitimate, saying a company called “Picketer” has been recently formed to service the new protest movement.

“There is a group of people who have made this into their profession. They don’t care who they are defending. They change their posters and slogans if they are paid more and join someone else,” he said.

Until now, the Kyrgyz police and security forces have been restrained in their response to the demonstrators. But some think the latest wave of protests should prompt a change of strategy.

“It is one thing to capture the White House and force Akaev to resign, but another when they want to solve legal issues using this method,” said Iskhak Masaliev, a deputy. “I think it is time to use force.”

Kubatbek Baibolov, a deputy who used to work for the Soviet KGB, said the government is showing its weakness by making concessions to the protestors and by its inability to secure state buildings.

“I think that we must put up resistance to all marches and meetings as soon as possible,” he said.

General prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov has opted for a more conciliatory approach, saying authorities are talking to both the supreme court and NSS demonstrators.

He believes cracking down hard on protests is impractical, and not in the best interests of Kyrgyzstan or its people.

“We are… trying to convince the opposing sides to reach a consensus, to preserve stability in the country,” said Beknazarov said.

“I don’t intend to write arrest warrants for the organisers of disturbances, otherwise half the country would be behind bars. We couldn’t have that.”

Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC correspondent in Bishkek

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