What Now? Kyrgyzstan & Central Asia
So what do the events of yesterday mean to Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia?
Time will soon tell.
Here’s a look at some developments in the last 24 hours:
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who took over as acting president of Kyrgyzstan on Friday, is a former prime minister who parted ways with the Central Asian nation’s leadership and went on to spearhead an opposition movement.
Bakiyev, 55, was born in the Jalal-Abad region of southern Kyrgyzstan, the poorest part of the country, which became the focal point for the protests against ousted President Askar Akayev.
He is like Ukraine’s pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, also a reformist former prime minister who joined the ranks of the opposition.
After being appointed in December 2000, Bakiyev lasted less than a year and a half in the job, resigning in May 2002 after police killed six peaceful protesters in the country’s south.
Observers said that Akayev had insisted he take responsibility for the incident, which did much to inflame opposition to the president’s rule and destroyed Akayev’s previous image as the only democratic leader among the autocratic despots in Central Asia.
The day-old opposition government scrambled today to organize a force to combat looting, as President Askar Akayev denied he had resigned, describing his absence from the country as temporary.
Volunteers tied yellow ribbons around their arms and joined regular policemen for law-enforcement patrols. Most shops and cafes here remained closed all day. The police fired shots into the air to disperse looters still raiding a shopping center in the center of the capital, Bishkek, where most of the plundering was aimed at stores known to be controlled by the family of Mr. Akayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday regretted over the Kyrgyzstan crisis and urged the opposition leaders fresh in power to restore stability in the Central Asian country.
“The situation where one of the former Soviet countries has resorted to unlawful means to settle its political problems causedour regret,” Putin said during his visit to Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, which is also an ex-Soviet republic, according tothe Interfax news agency.
Two weeks ago, Akayev said he had a “secret weapon” from preventing a “tulip revolution” like those in Georgia and Ukraine. Today we see how effective that was! Leaders from the other Central Asian countries, the other “-stans”, must be a bit worried:
“Definitely Nazarbayev is scared,” Bulat Abilov, a leader of Kazakhstan’s Ak Zhol (Bright Path) opposition party, said in Bishkek, noting Kazakhstan had closed its border with Kyrgyzstan.
“Kyrgyzstan is a very worrying signal for the Kazakh president,” said Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, another Ak Zhol leader. “If the presidential elections are falsified … the people of Kazakhstan may also search for the truth on the streets.”
This is even more evident in the reporting yesterday from the other Central Asian countries:
Uzbekistan – In Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov runs a tightly controlled government with thousands of political prisoners in jail, state-run television news did not mention the Kyrgyz uprising as breaking news.
It did have a one-minute, matter-of-fact report on the events in Bishkek at the end of the programme, which was full of the usual praise for the Uzbek government.
Kazakhstan – In Kazakhstan – the largest country in the region where presidential elections are due next year and which is seen as a likely target for a popular uprising – television channels did not even mention the Kyrgyz crisis in their news broadcasts until early evening.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry offered brotherly assistance and expressed hopes that the Kyrgyz people – “renowned for their traditions of wisdom and reason” – would emerge from “this difficult situation with dignity”.
Tajikistan – The Tajik Foreign Ministry said it planned to issue a statement on Friday, but state television downplayed the Kyrgyz revolution, reporting at the end of its news broadcasts that opposition supporters had seized control of some government buildings.
Turkmenistan – Turkmenistan, the most isolated and repressive of the Central Asian governments, ignored the events in Kyrgyzstan.
State television concentrated on showing day-old footage of a visit by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who had come to discuss gas supplies with Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who declared himself president-for-life several years ago.
Finally– a “Hat Tip” to Instapundit. Weeks ago I noticed a clip on the “Great One’s” blog about the upcoming elections. I have been following the story ever since. And,… I have been continually amazed at the courage of the people and their thirst for democracy in this remote mountainous country. Who knew, that within a few weeks timeframe the country would go through such tribulation and triumph? Thank you to Instapundit and thanks to Publius Pundit and Nathan at Registan.net and Ben Paarmann for your keen insight and round-ups of the situation on the ground!