The opposition sets the government yet another deadline to reform or resign.
By Leila Saralaeva in Bishkek

Economists argue that signing up to the WTO too hastily would destroy local 
business in an already weak economy. 
By Artyom Fradchuk in Dushanbe

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The opposition sets the government yet another deadline to reform or resign.

By Leila Saralaeva in Bishkek

The opposition in Kyrgyzstan has failed to achieve the definitive results it 
hoped its mass protest meeting in Bishkek last weekend would bring, and the 
stand-off with the government looks set to drag on over the summer months.

At a similar rally held on April 29, organisers from the Movement for Reforms 
promised that the May 27 demonstration would give the authorities an ultimatum 
to ensure that long-promised reforms were finally addressed, including the 
removal of government members blamed for some of Kyrgyzstan's social and 
economic ills.

But on May 10, President Kurmanbek Bakiev took some of the wind out of his 
opponents' sails by sacking key government officials including National 
Security Service chief Tashtemir Aitbaev, Secretary of State Dastan Sarygulov 
and the head of the presidential administration, Usen Sydykov.

The same day, the impact of another opposition demand - for the authorities to 
curb a wave of crime - was also softened, though not in the way the government 
or its critics would have chosen. Ryspek Akmatbaev, a prominent figure whose 
alleged links with organised crime embodied the opposition's concerns, was shot 
dead in the street by unknown assailants. 

The May 27 rally, which brought 10,000-strong crowd onto Bishkek's central 
Alatoo Square, therefore focused instead on other matters including the 
outstanding issue of constitutional reform. 

After months of debate by a large "constitutional conference" convened by the 
president, attempts to devise a new governing structure for Kyrgyzstan to 
replace the system left by ousted president Askar Akaev foundered on the issue 
of whether president or legislature should have the upper hand. 

The rally concluded with threats to seek President Bakiev's resignation if he 
fails to submit a new draft of the constitution to parliament by September. 

Other demands made at the end of the meeting included calls for economic 
reforms, greater freedom of speech and stronger independent media. 

Two of the demands listed by Kubatbek Baibolov, a member of parliament and head 
of the Union of Democratic Forces, were especially close to home for the Bakiev 

He said Akaev-era officials must be held accountable for the Aksy shootings of 
2002. At the time of the incident, in which six people died after police opened 
fire on a crowd of demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan, Bakiev was prime 
minister. He later resigned and joined the anti-Akaev opposition.   

Secondly, Baibolov demanded an end to government officials using their 
positions to acquire businesses for themselves or family members. This echoed 
slogans chanted by the crowd - in pithier language - accusing Bakiev of 
facilitating business acquisitions by his son Maxim. 

Almazbek Atambaev, co-chairman of the Movement for Reform, told rally 
participants that all of the companies that formerly belonged to members of the 
Akaev family were now in the hands of the new regime. "Why can't we prove this? 
Because they've registered them in other people's names," he said. 

Another serious accusation levelled at the authorities was that their policies 
tended to set the north and south of Kyrgyzstan against one another. The 
regional divide has long been viewed as a potentially explosive issue, and the 
current division of posts between southerner Bakiev and Prime Minister Felix 
Bakiev, who comes from the wealthier north, was forged last year in an attempt 
to create a balance.

"People of good will have gathered here today to tell the current regime that 
we are opposed to those who would divide us," parliamentary deputy Dooronbek 
Sadyrbaev told the crowd. "The regime says the interests of the northern Kyrgyz 
run contrary to those of the southerners. They are tearing our people into 
pieces and dividing us like sheep. We want to tell this regime to go." 

The only senior administration figure present at the rally was Tursunbek 
Akunov, chairman of the presidential committee for human rights, who stressed 
that the administration had already moved some way towards addressing the 
opposition's concerns. 

Prior to the rally, it was apparent that the Bakiev administration was worried 
about the mass protest, which was organised not by pro-Akaev elements but by 
many of the individuals and political groups who were instrumental in bringing 
Bakiev to power in last year's March revolution.

One of the measures taken to avert this show of public anger degenerated into 
farce and humiliating defeat. 

Five days before the rally was scheduled to take place, Defence Minister Ismail 
Isakov announced that Alatoo Square would - by pure coincidence - be taken up 
by an army extravaganza to celebrate two military dates falling on May 28 and 

Isakov said that the protesters should find a different venue and not obstruct 
the military events, which included a concert and awards ceremony, plus a 
ballroom dancing competition.

The opposition hit back, suggesting that defence chiefs pay more attention to 
their under-resourced conscripts rather than hosting elaborate events.

"Let the defence minister buy the soldiers some underwear and uniforms instead 
of holding celebrations," said parliamentary deputy Taalay Subanbekov. 

On May 26, the day before protesters, soldiers and ballroom dancers were due to 
converge on central Bishkek, the defence ministry sounded the retreat and 
cancelled the party. 

With the rally over, the Movement for Reforms has given the government another 
three months to produce some results before the opposition starts protesting 
again. Next time, opposition politicians promise, they will be seeking the 
resignations of both president and prime minister if they deem progress on 
reforms to be insufficient. 

"This was the last demonstration of the season, and we have stated officially 
that we are giving the regime three months, and expect an official answer from 
it at the beginning of September. If just one of our demands is not met, we 
will demand the resignation of the tandem," said opposition deputy Melis 
Eshimkanov, referring to the Bakiev-Kulov alliance. 

For the opposition, there is a danger that all-or-nothing demands for senior 
heads to roll will begin to lose their force if ultimatums are deferred from 
one protest meeting to the next.  

Elmira Nogoibaeva of the International Strategic Studies Centre, which is 
associated with President Bakiev's office, said, "One gets the impression that 
the last demonstration and this latest one did not differ fundamentally in any 

"If nothing changes in the coming three months, then the same kind of 
demonstration will probably take place in September, only on a smaller scale, 
with fewer participants, and less impact."

Leila Saralaeva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


Economists argue that signing up to the WTO too hastily would destroy local 
business in an already weak economy. 

By Artyom Fradchuk in Dushanbe

As the Tajik government tries to speed up the country's accession to the World 
Trade Organisation, economists are warning that signing up too soon would 
damage the country's still fragile economy. 

In an interview with IWPR, Ghafur Rasulov, the head of public relations at the 
Ministry of Economy and Trade, said Tajikistan could join the WTO as early as 
next year. 

That would make it only the second Central Asian state to accede to the free 
trade association, after Kyrgyzstan, which joined in 1998. Of the other Soviet 
states, only Armenia, Georgia and the three Baltic states are members, although 
Russia and Kazakstan are some way along the negotiating process. 

The Tajik government submitted an application to enter the WTO in 2001, and 
talks have been ongoing since then.

One of the immediate consequences for a country like Tajikistan is that it has 
to amend a whole range of economic laws, trade regulations and customs 
arrangements to harmonise with the WTO's rules. The improvement in the 
framework governing trade should have the added benefit of encouraging foreign 
investors, who are currently put off by the perceived lack of regulation. 

According to Rasulov, an inter-departmental government commission working on 
the accession process has already done a substantial amount of work to meet WTO 
standards. "We have reviewed a list of 12,000 goods and amended hundreds of 
laws in order to comply with WTO norms," he said. 

In the long run, this should smooth trade relations. "The WTO has 150 members, 
and once we've had to agree with them this once, we won't have to go through 
the routine of reaching bilateral agreements with these countries again," said 

Outside the government, WTO membership is supported by a number of Tajik 

"Being a WTO member will enable us to apply the preferential rules applied to 
exports of goods from all WTO member states," said economist Khojimuhammad 
Umarov. "And importing low-price raw materials and components will enable us to 
reduce the prime cost of production to competitive levels, therefore boosting 
the rate at which the real economy develops."

Tajikistan is already a member of two regional groupings that envisage free 
trade arrangements - the Commonwealth of Independent States, the original 
association of former Soviet states established in 1991, and the Eurasian 
Economic Community, a more limited grouping dating from 1997 and consisting of 
Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan plus recent member Uzbekistan. But 
customs harmonisation and rules on transit trade - important for landlocked 
Tajikistan - have not been fully implemented. 

Advocates of WTO membership argue that it might achieve what earlier 
arrangements have failed to do. 

"Given that all the Central Asian countries are going to enter the WTO, all the 
unjustifiably high customs and transit duties that Tajikistan now has to pay 
will be lifted. Those duties have already cost the country [to date] more than 
15 billion US dollars," said Umarov.

However, other analysts are wary about the impacts the new trading regime will 
have on an economy that remains largely uncompetitive aside from the key areas 
of aluminium, cotton and hydroelectric power. Apart from aluminium and cotton, 
which are traded internationally, and electricity which goes to neighbouring 
Central Asian states, Tajikistan's principal export market remains Russia.

A World Bank study on Tajikistan's trading system published in December said 
that while the country would eventually benefit from membership, the study 
cautioned that "accession will not suddenly improve market access abroad for 
Tajikistan's exports", simply because these already enjoy the terms applied to 
WTO states. The inherent saleability of aluminium and cotton on world markets 
potentially places Tajikistan in a better position as an exporter than other 
developing countries which have found their textiles, for example, blocked by 
anti-dumping measures imposed by stronger states within the WTO. 

The study argued that the main negative effect of WTO accession was the 
short-term cost of regulatory reform.

But local analysts are more concerned that WTO membership will flood the 
domestic market with cheap imports, driving all but the strongest Tajik firms 
out of business. 

"Entering the WTO will affect different parts of the economy in differing 
ways," said Maksud Odinaev, Tajikistan programme manager for the WTO's 
International Trade Centre. "For some it will have positive consequences, while 
for others it will prove destructive. It will depend on how well companies in 
these areas are prepared for WTO membership." 

The Tajik economy was the weakest in the USSR, and the subsequent collapse of 
Soviet trading links and the 1992-97 civil war created huge problems from which 
the country is only now recovering. 

"Objectively, Tajik enterprises are not ready to work to the WTO's conditions, 
and they will all go bankrupt," warned economist Rustam Babajanov. 

Nuriddin Kaumov, director of the Centre for Economic Research, agreed, saying 
the warning signs were already apparent. "At the moment, the republic has one 
of the lowest customs duty rates for imported goods, and the domestic market is 
filled with foreign products. After [WTO] accession, all the customs barriers 
will be removed and this will seriously damage companies that even now are 
economically unstable," he said. 

Political scientist Said Yuldashev argued that small and medium-sized firms 
were most at risk, "Since they have been unable to fulfil their promise on the 
domestic market, they will undoubtedly be crowded out by incoming international 

Odinaev believes it is the government's responsibility to ensure that local 
producers do not suffer. 

"Small and medium businesses have only just begun to emerge, and entering WTO 
will kill them off at such an early stage of development," he said. "In order 
to join the WTO, the government as the prime mover must take steps to improve 
the competitiveness of domestic producers.... 

"WTO membership needs to be on terms that meet our country's national 
interests, and do not create a threat to local domestic producers." 

New WTO members, especially the poorer ones, are able to claim certain 
privileges and exemptions to mitigate the shock effects of accession. But the 
experts interviewed by IWPR were sceptical about how much Tajikistan would 

As Babajanov explained, "Tajikistan is recognised to be one of the poorest of 
all the former Soviet republics, so the WTO may accept some [restrictive] 
import conditions in return for limiting [Tajik] exports. However, one needs to 
realise that all such preferential terms will be only temporary in nature."

Odinaev added that the Tajik state was too weak to exercise the theoretical 
rights it would have within the world trade grouping. "It is unlikely that the 
country will be able to negotiate such preferential treatment at the WTO. To do 
that, Tajikistan would need a permanent team of negotiators based in Geneva. 
That's impossible, as the cost of doing so would be beyond Tajikistan's means," 
he said. 

Opponents of rapid accession point to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan as an example of 
what can go wrong. The parallels are relevant, as the two countries are the 
smallest in Central Asia, and lack the oil and gas resources that make their 
bigger neighbours at least potentially wealthy. 

"We shouldn't repeat the sad experience of Kyrgyzstan, which entered the WTO 
hastily," said Umarov. "That country did not complete the process needed to 
eliminate [trade] barriers and raise foreign investor confidence." 

Trade barriers or not, Kyrgyzstan failed to address the underlying issues that 
hindered investment, said Odinaev. 

"The factors that made Kyrgyzstan less attractive for investors were political 
instability and widespread corruption. This is a lesson that should be learned 
by the Tajik government, so as to avoid inaction during WTO accession 
preparations - [otherwise] the end result will be counterproductive." 

Artyom Fradchuk is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe. 

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