WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 490, 23 March, 2007
KYRGYZ RALLY ENDS IN DISARRAY Compromise still possible on constitution, but
deep divisions separate the president and the opposition. By IWPR staff in
Bishkek and London
KAZAK AUTHORITIES RELUCTANT TO ALLOW PUBLIC PROTESTS Concerns that rights to
free assembly are under threat as Almaty protesters are told they can gather,
but only if they do so well away from the city centre. By Daur Dosybiev in
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KYRGYZ RALLY ENDS IN DISARRAY
Compromise still possible on constitution, but deep divisions separate the
president and the opposition.
By IWPR staff in Bishkek and London
Hopes that the latest stand-off between the Kyrgyz government and its opponents
would be resolved with a compromise deal suffered a blow this week when police
dispersed an opposition rally as some of the protesters tried to storm the
During the rally on Bishkeks central Ala-Too square, which began on April 11,
the opposition the United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan and the
Movement for Reforms had appeared in confident mood, insisting that President
Kurmanbek Bakiev must step down and allow an early presidential election.
Opposition supporters announced plans to gather the 300,000 signatures needed
to hold a nationwide referendum on impeaching Bakiev.
That confidence has gone, at least for now. The protesters have disappeared
from the square, their impromptu encampment of nomadic yurt tents dismantled,
the United Fronts offices have been raided and its leaders called in for
questioning by the National Security Committee
Police moved in on April 19, the ninth day of protests, after some of those in
the crowd tried to force their way into the White House, the main government
Riot police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and 11 people including five
policemen were taken to hospital after being injured in scuffles as the crowd
was dispersed. Around 100 people were arrested.
It is unclear where the confrontation between Bakiev and his opponents goes
from here. The latter have failed to unseat the president, and will find it
harder to regroup for a further round of street demonstrations. Pro-Bakiev
members of parliament are pressing for prosecutions and payment for damages.
One local analyst, Marat Kazakbaev, suggests that the opposition miscalculated
by making absolutist demands for example telling Bakiev to resign at a time
when the president had been seen to adopt conciliatory policies.
The protest failed because people saw that the authorities were paying heed to
the opposition's demands and were making concessions, he said.
Before the rally got under way, Bakiev had selected a leading opposition
figure, Almazbek Atambaev, to head up a coalition cabinet, a venture which
foundered after other oppositionists refused to take ministerial posts. Bakiev
had also made other efforts to meet opposition demands, for example by moving
ahead with constitutional reform.
When the authorities make concessions, it is not the right time to be laying
down radical demands, commented Kazakbaev.
The opposition remained deeply mistrustful of the presidents concessions,
seeing them as empty promises that came too late in the day and were unlikely
to be fulfilled.
This current crisis has its roots in the last round of protests in November,
when a weeklong rally by Movement for Reforms supporters forced Bakiev to
accept a new draft of the constitution that significantly curbed his powers. In
December, the president was able to force parliament to agree to a revised
version that restored much of his authority, a move which his opponents saw as
reneging on the earlier deal.
There is in theory still scope for some kind of consensus on the constitutional
question. Parliament has been asked to review a proposed draft of the
constitution, and swore in two new Constitutional Court judges crucial to the
process on April 20. However, what is unclear is which document will go
before legislators the opposition version produced by the United Front, the
official one drafted by a working group led by Prime Minister Atambaev, or
conceivably a compromise draft combining the two.
Despite the rout of the protesters, Tamerlan Ibraimov, director of the Centre
for Political and Legal Studies, insists the rally will prove to have been of
benefit in the longer term. It has contributed to the swift launch of
constitutional reform, which will result in a stronger prime minister and a
president with less power, he said.
Melis Eshimkanov, a member of parliament and a member of the United Front, also
said the opposition had proved its mettle. Speaking before the rally was broken
up by police, he said The United Front has only existed for less than two
months, but in this short time it has been able to change the situation in the
country. The president gave former oppositionist Almazbek Atambaev the position
of prime minister, he was prepared to hand the entire cabinet to the
opposition, he presented a new version of the constitution to parliament, and
he is now bargaining with everyone simply to keep his position.
One complicating factor is that as well as policy issues, there are strong
personalities involved in this latest round of confrontation. The November
dispute was between Bakiev and the Movement for Reforms. But this time the
oppositions agenda has been driven by Felix Kulov, who was Bakievs prime
minister until January this year, but who formed the United Front in February
and assumed a leading role in the opposition.
In the unstable period that followed the March 2005 revolution, the two men
formed a political alliance known as the tandem that secured nationwide
support for Bakiev to win election as president. The vote might otherwise have
been split between Kulovs supporters in the north of Kyrgyzstan and Bakievs
support-base in the south.
Kulov resigned in December 2006, but stayed on in a caretaker capacity. But
after parliament twice refused to endorse Bakievs attempt to get him
re-confirmed in the post, the president nominated another candidate, Kulov was
out, and the tandem arrangement was over.
As the Movement for Reforms began to be led by the United Fronts more radical
agenda in terms of policy, Kulovs emergence as the leading light in the
opposition also personalised the political confrontation, potentially making a
compromise more difficult.
Political analyst Turat Akimov likens the conflict between Kulov and Bakiev to
a head-on collision between two kamikazes.
Neither of them wants to make any concessions or compromises, or hold talks.
Now the only question is who will break whom, he said.
Parliamentarian Rashid Tagaev also said personal grievances and ambitions had
A fight for power is under way, or more precisely for one position that of
president, he told IWPR.
The need to co-opt different regional constituencies was the raison detre of
the tandem, and the ensuing political split between Bakiev and Kulov has also
become a regional issue. Regionalism is a powerful force in Kyrgyz politics
which many regard as a major risk to stability.
In remarks to journalists on April 15, Kulov referred to the regional divide,
saying, A president who causes confrontation among the people, dividing those
in the north from those in the south, does not have the right to be head of
The rally in Bishkek appears to have been attended mainly by people from
northern Kyrgyzstan, where Kulov is stronger. Attempts to stage similar events
in southern cities were called off for fear they would be disrupted by
The vast majority of opposition deputies and of the participants in the rally
come from the northern elite. So there is an element of regionalism here, said
parliamentarian Iskhak Masaliev.
The north-south divide is such a potent issue that although politicians may try
to harness it for their own ends, doing so is a high-risk venture.
The opposition and President Bakievs supporters inevitably think along
regional lines; it is a political tool to mobilise mass support, said
political analyst Mars Sariev. People are becoming politicised and divided
according to their regional origin, and this is even happening to people who
had never thought about this before. This is a mistake by our politicians, and
stems from their immaturity.
Roza Otunbaeva, a former ally of Bakiev but now an opponent, believes the
current politicisation of the north-south divide can be traced to the uneasy
nature of the Bakiev-Kulov tandem.
It reduced them to the level of regional leaders, she said. Kulov became the
leader of the north, while Bakiev became the southern leader. And so the south
has to defend Bakiev, and a section of the northern electorate went out onto
the square in support of Kulov.
This does no credit to either of them. They are the ones who are dividing the
Akylbek Isanov provided reporting from Bishkek for this article. IWPRs News
Briefing Central Asia agency also provided some of the interviews.
KAZAK AUTHORITIES RELUCTANT TO ALLOW PUBLIC PROTESTS
Concerns that rights to free assembly are under threat as Almaty protesters are
told they can gather, but only if they do so well away from the city centre.
By Daur Dosybiev in Almaty
Political turbulence in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine appears to be making the Kazak
authorities more than usually jumpy about protests in their own country, even
when these have little to do with politics.
The authorities in Kazakstans former capital Almaty recently ordered a planned
protest over urban development to take place on the outskirts of the city
rather in the centre as the organisers wanted.
The protest was scheduled for April 15 a time when in neighbouring
Kyrgyzstan, thousands of protesters were gathered in the centre of the capital
Bishkek calling on the president to resign.
Unlike the Kyrgyz protests, the Almaty rally was not overtly political. Plans
to redesign a central district of Almaty known as the golden square, which
will involve the demolition of many homes, have created a groundswell of
opposition among residents in recent months.
The organisers of the April protest, a group called Protect Our City, said they
would postpone the event rather than agree to relocate it far from the city
centre, where it was likely to pass unnoticed.
A city resident whose own home is scheduled for demolition voiced the anger
felt by many. Construction firms have already bought up the entire city and
hiked up the prices of housing and land, he said. We want the authorities to
listen to us and take our opinion into account, but instead they tell us to let
off steam on the city outskirts.
The city authorities may have been made more nervous by the fact that the rally
was to be attended by other pressure groups with different grievances, so that
it might have begun to look like a grassroots, broad-based movement.
Apart from residents, environmentalists and architectural experts concerned
about urban redevelopment, another particularly vocal group consists of owners
of right-hand-drive cars, which the authorities have ordered off the road by
2009. The government says the cars, , cause a disproportionately high number of
accidents in a country where most cars are left-hand-drive. But the owners are
an important social group, the emerging middle class, who can just about afford
a cheap import from the Far East and feel they are being punished by the rich
and powerful who control car sales.
A disgruntled car owner, Takejan Akhmetov, explained why people like him
planned to join a rally against urban development. Social and economic
problems have built up in our society. We dont want them to turn into a
. [but] people dont want these problems to be hidden away on distant
A representative of the Almaty city government who asked not to be named said
holding the rally in the city centre would have caused serious traffic
problems, and in any case there was a new rule that all protests had to be held
in a particular square ten kilometres from the centre of town.
Yevgeny Zhovtis, director of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of
Law, told IWPR that such restrictions on the right to assembly stemmed from the
governments fear of popular unrest, which have led to regime change in
Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in recent years.
I think that by banning peaceful meetings, the authorities are hoping to
protect themselves against public dissatisfaction, he said.
Zhovtis said excessive curbs on public protests could prove counter-productive.
People hold a peaceful meeting and the police start to pressure them merely
because certain formalities have not been observed, he said. There are
beatings and arrests, and this only leads to radicalisation and an increase in
the level of conflict.
Human rights groups are growing increasingly concerned about restrictions on
freedom of assembly, which is a constitutional right in Kazakstan although
demonstrations have to be approved by the authorities in advance.
Unfortunately, the right of assembly, like many other rights and freedoms of
citizens in Kazakstan, is illusory, he said. They may exist in the
constitution, but they dont operate in everyday life.
On April 12, Zhovtiss group along with other human rights groups presented a
draft law on freedom of assembly which they say is intended to provide clearer
guidance on how advance notice is given of public meetings, and the reasons
which the authorities can use to ban them
The authorities have yet to react to the proposal.
Daur Dosybiev is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.
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