real prospect of more accountable government, but political leaders may try to 
undermine the reform.  By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek 

UNCERTAINTY DOGS ANDIJAN REFUGEES  Most of the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are in a 
legal no-man's land with no legal status as refugees and the ever-present risk 
of deportation.  By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek 

ROAD RAGE IN KAZAKSTAN  Owners of right-hand drive cars are outraged at a 
government plan to ban such vehicles.  By Filip Prokudin in Almaty 


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The new constitution offers a real prospect of more accountable government, but 
political leaders may try to undermine the reform.

By Cholpon Orozobekova in Bishkek 

Nearly two weeks after Kyrgyzstan's constitution came into force, rushed 
through in a deal between the government and its opponents, people are waiting 
to see whether it will bring a close to a prolonged period of political 

Some opposition politicians worry that the country's leaders show signs of 
carrying on as if nothing has really changed. 

The constitution, signed into law by President Kurmanbek Bakiev on November 9, 
was a compromise between the authorities and the opposition forces which had 
held a week-long rally demanding fundamental changes to the way the country is 
run. The document was drafted by pro- and anti-Bakiev factions in parliament as 
the street demonstrations threatened to tip over into violence, with riot 
police using batons and tear gas to separate rival groups of protesters. 

The new constitution curtails some of the powers of the Kyrgyz president, and 
for the first time allows the dominant party in parliament to choose a prime 
minister and government. Parliament itself grows from 75 to 90 seats, half of 
them filled by proportional representation rather than the first-past-the-post 
system, a change the opposition sought as a way of reducing the chance of 
fixing elections in advance. 

The peaceful resolution to what looked like a dangerous confrontation has been 
welcomed by many in Kyrgyzstan. 

"This new constitution is far from ideal, but in the circumstances it 
represents two steps forward," said Asiya Sasykbaeva of Interbilim, a 
non-government group. "Everyone is happy that the conflict was resolved in a 
positive manner and without bloodshed."

Sultan Urmanaev, a member of the opposition Movement for Reforms, agreed, 
saying, "I believe that the constitution will take the country out of crisis. 
It's a step towards democracy. It's given us a strong government. Whereas in 
the past the government always looked to the president before doing anything, 
now it is like a bird that has broken free." 

However, the rushed drafting process has also led to claims that the 
constitution contains inconsistencies and leaves unresolved questions about who 
has the right to do what in the political structure. This is all the more true 
since it was decided that in the interests of stability, the current government 
should stay on and parliament should see out its term, so that neither body 
reflects the constitutional arrangements that so far, exist only on paper. 

Amangeldi Muraliev, a former prime minister, argues that further tensions are 

"New conflicts are to be expected now that the constitution has been passed," 
he said. "According to the constitution, there should be a change of government 
to fit with the new structure, yet it's been agreed that all these top 
officials should remain in situ until 2010. But will the nation put up with 
them until then? And more importantly, will they be able to put up with each 

At the moment, both sides appear to be still recovering from their 
confrontation and coming to terms with the surprise deal that ended it. 

"The battle between the [two] forces has not stopped," said Kubatbek Baibolov, 
leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces. "Those who didn't want 
this new constitution are probing for its shortcomings and inconsistencies, 
while those who did want it are looking for its good points."

Baibolov includes President Bakiev among those reluctant to accept 
constitutional reform. "He wanted to live and rule like [Askar] Akaev," said 
Baibolov, referring to the former president ousted in March 2005 by an 
opposition movement that included both Bakiev and his current opponents - many 
of who have defected from his administration over the last year, disappointed 
at what they saw as his failure to tackle key reforms. 

"We forced him into this, and now a reassessment is taking place inside 
Government House. Many people there do not want to live under this constitution 
but are forced to do so, and they don't know how," said Baibolov.

Another opposition leader, Melis Eshimkanov of the Movement for Reforms, 
complained that the text of the constitution had not been published. "There's 
talk that it's being changed. I don't believe it can take that long to correct 
grammatical mistakes," he said. 

Eshimkanov added, "I fear that the president, who never wanted this reform at 
all, is now deliberately flouting the constitution." As evidence of this 
charge, he cited a November 13 decree from Bakiev sacking Turgunbek Kulmurzaev 
as governor of Chui region and replacing him with Kubanychbek Syydanov. 
Kulmurzaev had taken part in the opposition's street protests. 

According to Eshimkanov, the president can only make this kind of personnel 
change on the instructions of Prime Minister Felix Kulov. "We've made 
enquiries, and there's been no such order," he said. 

Edil Baisalov, another Movement for Reforms member, believes the Bakiev 
administration has not woken up to what the constitutional changes mean, and 
may seek to circumvent them when they do. 

"I suspect that when the president and his team find out they've been deprived 
of numerous powers, they will look at various ways out of the situation," he 
said. "One possible option is that matters are brought to a head, a new reform 
is launched, and a referendum held.... Another is that they delay the passage 
of laws, the president rules [as before] and says which laws are to go through, 
and when."

Erkindik party leader Topchubek Turgunaliev, who aligned himself with the 
president during the recent turmoil, agrees with those opposition politicians 
who argue that signing up to the constitution merely marks "the start of a new 
phase in the struggle for power". 

But in contrast to their views, Turgunaliev accuses the opposition, not the 
president, of continuing to stoke tensions.  

At the start of the November 2-8 rally, the opposition called for the 
resignation of both Bakiev and Kulov. As Turgunaliev noted, the pressure seems 
to be off the president at the moment. 

"The opposition is seeking the resignation of the government, and after that it 
will pursue the removal of the president again," he said. "It's a very 
difficult situation. The opposition isn't going to stop. Constitutional reform 
may prove to have been a pretext for a bid for the presidency."

The Movement for Reforms called on Kulov to step down on November 14, arguing 
that his government should have the support of most members of parliament.

Baibolov told IWPR that he wants to see the government step down to make way 
for a new line-up that "enjoys the nation's trust" - although he accepts many 
of the existing faces would reappear in a new cabinet. 

"We are not demanding resignations, but the government does need to undergo 
significant changes," he said.

The prime minister is understood to be preparing a new cabinet list which would 
go to parliament for approval. 

Many analysts believe Kulov will survive - not least because Bakiev's 
administration is founded on the "tandem", the sometimes difficult political 
coalition the two men have forged.

Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Centre for Political and Legal Studies, made 
the point that there is currently no dominant political party in parliament 
that could take on the role of choosing a cabinet, so that technically 
President Bakiev still has the final say over the selection. 

On November 21, RFE/RL reported that the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil 
Society issued a renewed call for the constitution to be published. The hold-up 
is said to be in translating the document from the Russian original into 
Kyrgyz, the state language. 

Cholpon Orozobekova is a correspondent for Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz service of 


Most of the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are in a legal no-man's land with no legal 
status as refugees and the ever-present risk of deportation.

By Aziza Turdueva in Bishkek 

Refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan following violence in the Uzbek city of Andijan 
last year face an uncertain future in their new homeland, with many living in 
poverty and in fear that they will be forced back to Uzbekistan.

At least 800 refugees crossed the border in the days following May 13, 2005, 
when Uzbek troops opened fire on unarmed protesters.

So far, 440 have since been sent to other countries including Romania, the 
United States, Canada and Australia. The rest remain in Kyrgyzstan with 114 
people - mainly opposition members, human rights activists and journalists - 
formally registered as refugees by the State Committee for Migration and 

Among the 114, there are 40 to whom the Bishkek office of the United Nations 
High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has accorded its own refugee status, and 
another 50 who have applications pending with the agency.

An estimated 350 others, however, have not acquired refugee status and live in 
the shadows, earning money as unskilled labourers. 

The registered refugees say the aid provided by the UNHCR - each individual 
gets ten kilogrammes of flour and rice, four kg of cooking oil and the same of 
sugar, and the equivalent of 12 US dollars in cash to last them a period of 
three months - is not enough to live on.

Turgun Rahimov, a pensioner and long-time member of the Uzbek opposition party 
Birlik, lives in Tokmak, 100 kilometres from Bishkek. Like many of his 
counterparts, he says he hasn't got enough to eat and earns spare cash by 
collecting empty bottles for the deposit.

The refugees also live in fear of being sent back to Uzbekistan. Many say the 
reason why they do not seek formal refugee status is that they are worried this 
could bring unwelcome attention from the authorities. 

Although the government was praised for allowing 440 refugees to leave for 
third countries, human rights activists in Kyrgyzstan and abroad have accused 
it of failing its obligation to protect those who remain.

The UNHCR representative in Bishkek, Vitaly Maslovsky, says the government has 
delayed the process of granting the Uzbeks legal status as refugees.

There are concerns among refugees and domestic and international human rights 
groups that the Kyrgyz authorities are quietly returning refugees and 
asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan in contravention of international law. 

The Kyrgyz government has sought to reassure Uzbekistan of its commitment to 
clamping down on Islamic radicalism in the Fergana Valley, shared by both 
countries. Kyrgyz security forces mounted a major sweep in southern parts of 
the country over the summer which resulted in arrests and a number of deaths, 
including those of a suspected militant leader and a prominent Muslim cleric.

In late August, UNHCR said it was worried about the fate of four individuals 
who had disappeared from the city of Osh. All four had been registered by the 
Kyrgyz government's migration agency. 

UNHCR said it had credible information that at least two of them were now in 
custody across the border in Andijan. 

At the same time, the United States embassy noted that a different group 
consisting of four registered refugees and one applicant had earlier been 
extradited to Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan's prosecution service said it had received no extradition requests 
for people who had applied for refugee status, but it later acknowledged that 
the four whose cases were raised by the UNHCR plus another man with a pending 
asylum application were no longer in the country.

Adilet, a local human rights group which helps protect refugees' rights, now 
says it is aware of 17 Uzbeks who have disappeared without a trace. 

Maslovsky of UNHCR said that such cases show that "Kyrgyzstan is not fulfilling 
its obligations on refugee rights in full". 

Police in Osh denied detaining the five who disappeared from the city, and 
began an investigation. However, there is concern both among refugees and in 
the human rights community, including Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir Uulu, the 
police themselves are implicated in such abductions.

"When four Uzbek [other] refugees disappeared without trace, we immediately 
voiced our suspicions that they might have been kidnapped by our [Kyrgyz] 
law-enforcement bodies and handed over to the Uzbek authorities. And now this 
suspicion has been confirmed by reports that three of them are being held in 
Andijan prisons," said Aziza Abdrasulova, the head of the human rights 
organisation Kylym Shamy, referring to a different group of people from those 
whose cases the UNHCR raised.

Many of the Uzbek refugees originally based in southern Kyrgyzstan have since 
moved north to Bishkek, where they hope they will be less vulnerable to 
predatory security officers. 

Even when he lived in Bishkek, Rahimov said he was followed by people who told 
him they worked for the Kyrgyz law-enforcement services. "There have been 
several attempts to remove me. Strangers come to the apartment. So I often have 
to change my place of residence. This is difficult for me as I am over 60," he 

Another Birlik member, Anvar Akilov, who has been living in Bishkek since the 
Andijan violence, says he has approached repeatedly by strangers who tell him 
he should go back to Uzbekistan.

"It's a kind of threat. I am afraid for my children," he said. 

Many refugees, however, are afraid to speak out against the Karimov government, 
because their families must live with the consequences if they do.

Mahmud Ilhomov, who also lives in Bishkek, told IWPR that after he was 
interviewed on the radio, his relatives began to be persecuted back in 
Uzbekistan. "My sister rang me and asked me with tears in her eyes to stop 
giving interviews," he said.

Aziza Turdueva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

(The names of interviewees have been changed out of concern for their safety.)


Owners of right-hand drive cars are outraged at a government plan to ban such 

By Filip Prokudin in Almaty 

"This is a real blow below the belt. What am I supposed to do?" asked Timur, 
complaining of a recent government decision that many people in Kazakstan feel 
is an infringement of their basic freedoms.

The issue is not politics or human rights, but which side a car's steering 
wheel should be on. 

Most cars in Kazakstan, as in Russia and other countries where traffic drives 
on the right, have their steering wheels on the left-hand side. But Timur is 
among a growing band of drivers who have acquired right-hand drive cars, 
purchased second-hand in Japan and sold at affordable prices. 

"Cars of the model I have are manufactured in Japan with a diesel engine for 
the domestic market only, and so they come with right-hand steering," he 

In a November 13 ruling, Kazakstan's Security Council banned such vehicles, 
saying they cause too many accidents.

No right-hand drive vehicles can be imported from January next year, and even 
more controversially, all those already in the country will have to be off the 
road by 2009. 

The head of Kazakstan's traffic police, Omurzak Tusumov, said road safety 
concerns had forced the move. 

"Three thousand people die in car accidents every year in Kazakstan," he said. 

Interior ministry statistics show the number of deaths involving right-hand 
drive cars so far this year has risen by 100 per cent compared with the same 
period last year. 

"The figures speak for themselves," said Tusumov, citing a study commissioned 
from Kazakstan's transport academy. "The technical disadvantage of these cars 
is that their headlights point to the left and dazzle oncoming drivers."

Car journalist Diaz Abylkasov, who works for the Virazh dealership which mostly 
sells new Russian-made cars, believes the authorities were right to enforce a 
ban on used right-hand vehicles.

"These cars are usually over seven years old, so they are dirtier to run. I 
think it's part of an environmental programme.... But the main reason is the 
danger these cars pose. Their drivers have to swing right out into the other 
lane and often fail to react to an oncoming car. I have friends who've had 
crashes in these cars," he said.

Right-hand drivers dispute such claims, saying the dangers are exaggerated. 

"Cars with right-hand steering wheels are only inconvenient in two situations - 
overtaking and turning left at an intersection. To avoid accidents, you can fit 
special overtaking mirrors, which I've done," said Timur. "And right-hand drive 
can be more convenient - when I park the car I can get right out on to the 

Another driver, who did not want to be named, told IWPR how he joined a 
demonstration mounted by owners angered at the prospect of losing their cars in 

"About 500 cars took part," he said. "First we protested in our cars - we drove 
along, flashed our indicators, and obstructed cars with left-handed steering. 
Then we marched on foot."

This man, who believes "someone in Astana needs to have his head examined", 
said it was unfair to pick on cars made for the Japanese market, which he said 
were cheaper, safer and more eco-friendly than equivalent models imported from 

Although the centres of its big cities may be congested, Kazakstan has only 12 
cars per 100 people, compared with around 15 in Russia and over 50 in Germany. 
There is no domestic car industry, and in the last decade the Russian-made 
Volgas and Ladas that were once ubiquitous have increasingly been displaced by 
foreign models. 

Shiny new Mercedes and Jeeps are common sights in the big cities, but represent 
an insignificant elite market segment. Of the 240,000 cars imported last year, 
less than 40,000 were new, and most of the rest were over seven years old, 
according to trade ministry data. 

The second-hand cars are either brought over from Europe or imported from Japan 
- the source of all right-hand drive vehicles. Over the past four years, 
800,000 used models have been imported into Kazakstan, which has just over 1.5 
million cars. Tusumov told the Security Council meeting that there are now 
117,000 right-hand drive motors in the country.

There is a perception that the proposed ban will unfairly punish the emerging 
middle class in Kazakstan, who can just about afford to buy a Japanese import 
on their modest budgets. Running these models is cheap, too, with Chinese-made 
spare parts readily available. 

Despite the safety reasons cited by the government, the proposed ban has 
sparked conspiracy theories - for example that powerful business groups wanted 
to stem the flow of cheap imports so as to tighten their control over car 

While the import ban seems likely to be enforced next year, it is possible the 
government may yet reconsider or soften its decision to outlaw right-hand cars 
on Kazakstan's roads in two years' time. The interior ministry's recommendation 
to the Security Council meeting which took the decision only proposed stopping 
new vehicle registrations after a certain deadline. 

Filip Prokudin is an independent journalist in Almaty.

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