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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June 2005, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Violence dents Kyrgyz poll hopes
By Sarah Shenker
BBC News

Body of Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev - 10/6/05
An upsurge in violence could overshadow the election
Three weeks before Kyrgyzstan holds a key presidential election, there are hopes that the ousting in March of former leader Askar Akayev will open a new era.

But a recent string of violence has highlighted the country's continuing instability, and raised questions about how much has really changed.

"I am very optimistic," said Edil Baisalov, president of the Bishkek-based Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society.

"All of us were so unhappy under Mr Akayev, how can our lives be any worse?" he said.

Yet political tensions stemming from Akayev's long rule have continued to disrupt daily life in the Central Asian republic.

Last week, police in the capital, Bishkek, used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had occupied part of the main government building.

The protesters were supporters of a businessman banned from contesting the election, but acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev said they were in fact Akayev supporters.

A few days earlier, politician Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev was gunned down in broad daylight in Bishkek. The motive was unclear, but Surabaldiyev's opponents had accused him of organising groups of young men who attacked anti-Akayev protestors

One can say that corruption permeates all the government structures in the country, and the private sector as well
Kumar Bekbolotov
Institute for War and Peace Reporting

And on 1 June, hundreds of protesters were ejected from the Supreme Court, which they had held for more than a month, in a row about disputed elections.

"Every week we have something new happening here," said Victoria Lavrova, a Bishkek native and lecturer in political science at the American University in Central Asia.

People no longer feel safe, and fear the potential for civil conflict, she said.

"There is a divide between the north and south of the country. People in the north feel it was a revolution organised by southerners, and southerners still feel deprived of power. That said, there is a lot of debate going on. The media is much freer, and everybody is involved in politics now. But we are all waiting for the result of the election," she said.

Corruption and instability

Acting President Bakiev, who took power after Mr Akayev fled on 24 March, is widely expected to win the 10 July poll.

But he will have to work hard to meet people's hopes and expectations, said Kumar Bekbolotov, Kyrgyzstan programme director for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.

Map of Kyrgyzstan

"One can say that corruption permeates all the government structures in the country, and the private sector as well," Mr Bekbolotov said.

"People are concerned about who will end up controlling the funds and assets previously controlled by the Akayev family. But the main issue is stability. Many people are afraid that something might happen before the election that would prevent the process going ahead," he said.

As for the recent violence, Mr Bekbolotov said most people blame it on elements from the former regime.

"There are still very strong pro-Akayev people in the country who want to disrupt the process of normalisation, and undermine the efforts of the new government to stop it gaining legitimacy and the trust of the people," he said.

"People are very concerned about the rumoured involvement of some politicians with criminal groups. They are worried the new government might feel obligated to criminal elements who helped them at the time of the revolt with political support and funding," he said.

Real freedoms

However, Edil Baisalov believed fears of instability were overplayed.

"Some people took the wrong lessons from 24 March uprising, and think it is enough to get a demonstration going to make the government fall.

"The revolution was about removing a corrupt and undemocratic regime. The recent violence and protests are not related to the revolution. Such incidents were part of our lives under Akayev, and will be afterwards," he said.

File photograph of Former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev
Former leader Askar Akayev fled to Russia in March

The ousting of Mr Akayev did not bring about overnight change, he said, but the process the uprising started will continue.

Parliamentary elections and constitutional reform will bring about real change, he added.

In the meantime, his coalition, which represents Kyrgyz NGOs, has seen a increase in civic activity across the country.

"We now have real freedom of meetings and rallies, and society has gone through a sort of cleansing. And we are continuing to be critical of the new government, just like other civic groups in other societies," he said.

The hope is that in the longer term, these will provide checks and balances to government power, Ms Lavrova said.

"Until then," she said, "Kyrgyzstan will be in the news a lot."


SEE ALSO:
Kyrgyz forces break up protests
17 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyz MP shot dead in Bishkek
10 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Protesters clash at Kyrgyz court
01 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyzstan's new leaders
17 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyz presidential race narrows
13 May 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Kyrgyzstan faces post-Akayev future
04 Apr 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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