More on Akayev’s Past, from the AP

by Laurence on 3/22/2005

Not so friendly as the French, the Associated Press has put out this mini-backgrounder on Akayev:

Europe – AP

Perception of Kyrgyzstan Leader Changes

1 hour, 3 minutes ago Europe – AP

By KADYR TOKTOGULOV, Associated Press Writer

OSH, Kyrgyzstan – Now besieged by political foes in southern Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akayev was considered a reformer when he rose to power, but his increasing intolerance of dissent has washed away the country’s image as an island of democracy in former Soviet Central Asia.

Akayev, 60, became president of Kyrgyzstan in 1991 in the dying months of the Soviet Union — unusually as a former academic in a region largely run by career Communist Party bureaucrats who cultivated absolute power.

An ally of reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Akayev held out the promise of democracy and for a while, Kyrgyzstan was notable in the region for its relatively open politics. But Akayev drew international criticism for abuses in elections and began to take a tougher line with opponents.

His image really began to tarnish in 2002 when police killed six peaceful demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan and the government cracked down on opposition groups and independent media. He was criticized for failing to bring officials responsible for the deaths to justice.

The current political turmoil grew out of suspicions that Akayev will renege on a pledge to step down as president when his latest five-year term expires in October.

Opponents worried that he planned to seek a referendum on allowing him to run for another term, fears that intensified after recent parliamentary elections widely criticized by the West as unfair gave him a legislature overwhelmingly dominated by his supporters.

The winning of parliament seats by two of his four children also drew accusations that Akayev intends to set up a family succession to the presidency.

Born Nov. 10, 1944, in the northern village of Kyzyl-Bayrak, Akayev grew up in a family of collective farmers.

He graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics in 1967 with an honors degree in math, engineering and computers. He got a doctorate in 1981 from the Moscow Institute of Engineering and Physics, writing his dissertation on holographic systems of storage and transformation of information.

Akayev began teaching in 1977 at the Polytechnic Institute in Frunze, as the Kyrgyz capital was then known. Some of his later Cabinet members were his former students and friends from his academic life.

In 1989, he was elected a representative for southern Kyrgyzstan at the Soviet Union’s Supreme Council, where he was considered one of the liberal deputies and had close ties to Gorbachev.

Akayev was elected president of the Soviet Kyrgyz parliament in 1990, and was credited with calming ethnic tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan that year after clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks killed dozens of people.

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