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Pro-Akaev Politician Gunned Down in Kyrgyzstan

Deputy’s murder causes consternation in an already jittery political situation.
By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova

Kyrgyz politicians are reeling in shock at the assassination of a leading ally of former president Askar Akaev.

Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev, a businessman and member of parliament, was shot dead on June 10 in broad daylight in the centre of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. A second man, Surabaldiev’s driver, was injured in the shooting.

Parliament went into emergency session to discuss the killing.

About ten minutes after the attack – which took place at 12.40 pm local time - an IWPR contributor came on the scene by chance after noticing a crowd that had gathered by three police cars outside the Russian Drama Theatre on Pushkin Street.

Two men were lying on the ground: Surabaldiev was still alive and the other man was trying to make a mobile phone call.

A four-by-four Toyota Landcruiser carrying with government numberplates stood nearby with a bullet hole in the door window on the driver’s side.

An ambulance arrived after 20 minutes, but Surabaldiev was already dead.

Two women – one young, one older – arrived by car shortly afterward. The young woman howled in anguish, calling out “Dad”, and trying to embrace the body despite the police’s attempts to restrain her. The other woman looked on in shock.

The driver was taken to hospital with two gunshot wounds, and later underwent an operation.

It appears that Surabaldiev was shot after he came out of the offices of the Council of Entrepreneurs, which he heads, and had got into the back of the car. Five or six shots were fired from a Russian-made pistol injuring the driver as well as the presumed target.

Eyewitnesses said the attackers made off in a white Mercedes.

Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov, appearing before parliament later in the afternoon to report on the incident, said the attack began with one of the assailants shooting at the driver, who fired back with the firearm he carries as part of his job. A second man moved in to fire four fatal shots into Surabaldiev, and then he and his accomplice made off in a Mercedes driven by a third man.

This is the first time a member of the Kyrgyz parliament has been assassinated. In April, Bayaman Erkinbayev, who was involved in the March protests on the opposition side, escaped with a facial injury from a similar attempt on his life.

Such was the mood in Bishkek that a number of the deputies turning up for the emergency session were accompanied by two bodyguards each.

The members of parliament agreed to offer a financial reward for valuable information about the killing.

Although the attack bore the hallmarks of a carefully planned operation, it is too early for anyone to know what the motive was.

“There’s a whole range of stories,” member of parliament Kubat Baybolov told IWPR. “Its a contract killing. The stories range from a property dispute to a politically-motivated contract job. I personally believe the murder had to do with a dispute over property ownership.”

He explained that criminal and political motives might not be mutually exclusive, “In a situation where the authorities are amorphous and weak, the criminal world moves to the fore and becomes active. There are undoubtedly provocations, and there are undoubtedly various interests at work. There are reports that the conflicting [political] sides are employing the criminal world.”

In his remarks to parliament, the head of the National Security Service, Tashtemir Aitbaev, expressed greater certainty, saying, “The murder looks like it has do with underworld disputes. There’s no motive for a political angle.”

Aitbaev said the law-enforcement agencies had thrown all their resources at solving the crime, blocking roads out of Bishkek and questioning the many eyewitnesses.

In an indirect reference to suggestions that Kyrgyzstan’s police services were not up to the job of coping with the crime situation, Aitbaev said, “This crime has to be solved not just for the sake of the late deputy who was elected by the people, but for the honour of all the law-enforcement agencies.”

Needled by one of the deputies about this issue – and asked whether he personally would resign if the investigation failed to produce results - Aitbaev snarled back and called the question “loutish”.

Surabaldiev was a prominent figure who ran the Council of Entrepreneurs, a body set up by President Akaev.

“He was an ardent supporter of Akaev,” recalled Jypar Jeksheev, who is among those running for president on July 10.

Since late March, Surabaldiev has been the subject of controversial allegations that he was involved in a last-ditch attempt to save the Akaev regime, as mounting protests reached their denouement.

When demonstrators gathered in Bishkek on March 23 and 24, before events spiralled out of control ending in the storming of the government building, they were physically attacked by groups of young men who were in plain clothes but who looked suspiciously like an organised force – an impression strengthened by the fact that all wore the same white baseball caps as an identifying mark.

Members of the opposition – soon to form Kyrgyzstan’s new government - accused Surabaldiev of helping organise and even funding this group, and of playing a similar role in the night of disturbances and looting that followed the ousting of Akaev. He himself strongly denied the charge, describing it as “pure invention” and “slander”.

Jeksheev believes almost anything is possible. While he gives credence to suggestions that Surabaldiev had some role in pre-revolution violence, he also notes, “He was a businessman, and he may have had enemies in the business world. It’s possible that he annoyed them in some way because of his links with Akaev’s entourage.”

One point that many politicians agree on is that the killing does little for Kyrgyzstan’s reputation at a time when the new government is trying to restore stability ahead of the July presidential ballot.

“This will heat up the already tense situation in the country,” predicted Baybolov.

Jeksheev added, “We’re gradually turning into a criminal society. The public is increasingly alarmed given that a deputy can be killed in broad daylight in the very centre of the city.

“Whatever kind of man he was, this is a quite exceptional incident…. It will do great damage to the image both of the country and of the new authorities.”

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is IWPR’s programme coordinator in Kyrgyzstan. Elena Skochilo is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek. Sultan Kanazarov, a correspondent for Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of RFE/RL, also contributed material for this report.