Kyrgyzstan: Protests in Bishkek

by Nathan Hamm on 11/3/2006 · 10 comments

As Germany’s foreign minister shows up in Bishkek for talks with the government, the second day of protests in Kyrgyzstan against the Bakiev-Kulov government have wrapped up. Estimates of the crowd’s size vary depending on the source. RIA Novosti cites the police as saying 7,000 and the protesters as saying 10,000, though another report from them says 40,000. RFE/RL meanwhile, reports around 15,000 from “many estimates.”

The protests come as a reaction to the president backing away from an agreement that would allow parliament more governing power — a promise for governmental reform that he made when he first came to power and has avoided following through on ever since. Bruce Pannier’s coverage provides a good summary of the opposition’s complaints against the administration. Roza Otunbaeva, for example, said,

“Less than two years ago, we stood here — on this very spot,” Otunbaeva recalled. “[And] we thought we had rid ourselves of all the thieves. But again the thieves are occupying the White House.”

Prime Minister Kulov today cuused the opposition of plotting a coup, adding insult to the injury of him not joining, as some had hoped, the opposition’s cause.

Kulov made his announcement at a meeting with parliamentarians today, during which he played audiotape purporting to contain telephone conversations among opposition leaders. The recordings were said to include the voices of a number of senior opposition leaders who are leading the current protest, including Omurbek Tekebaev, Roza Otunbaeva, Bolot Sherniyazov, Temir Sariev, and Edil Baisalov.

“Those tapes tell us that [those people] are discussing the possibility of seizing a number of important facilities — including the Kyrgyz state-television building, the [Bishkek] mayor’s office, the National Security Service, the Prosecutor-General’s Office, [and] the Interior Ministry,” Kulov charged. “They’re also discussing the possibility of taking control of a number of cities and towns — that is, their central administration offices — and rouse public opinion by making addresses to the people.”

Opposition figures deny the authenticity of the tapes. Kyrgyz Report has a transcript of the tapes, and you can listen to them in the audio player below.

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The protests have apparently spread out from Ala-Too Square. The same story also mentions that 2,000 protesters marched on Bishkek’s city hall to demand the mayor support them or resign. ITAR-TASS puts the number marching on city hall at about 600 and says that the protesters accused the mayor of trying to interfere with their rallies.

Protesters also marched on to the state television building, where the director of state television and radio agreed to give them airtime during prime time. The government has rescinded the offer. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports that state television has gone off the air, though all media reports regarding TV are a bit hard to follow.

Where will it go from here? I, frankly, am surprised that the protests have come off as well as they have so far. The opposition is clearly better organized than I had suspected, and it appears to have Bakiev somewhat spooked. Michael Hall shared some good observations with Reuters.

‘The opposition are quite serious. They have a certain feeling it’s now or never,’ Michael Hall, Central Asia director for the think tank the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.

‘(But) Bakiyev has also gotten somewhat stronger over the last year or so. His government is not quite as unstable as it was even at the beginning of this year.’

Hall said the main danger was that one side would make a wrong move – either the authorities cracking down or any action by the protesters that could look like a coup attempt.

Bakiev surely is wary of coming down hard. If history is any indication, that could be a one-way ticket to a professorship in Moscow. But, Kulov appears to be sending a message sure to resonate with the public: “The protesters will only bring chaos all over again.” In fact, that is why Kyrgyz Report says that he is coming out on top so far.

Great coverage and discussion of the protests can be found in English at The Roberts Report and Kyrgyz Report. Meanwhile, for Russian language coverage, visit neweurasia (where one can also find photos) and Edil Baisalov’s blog. On Flickr, Teokaye has great photos.

If you have first-hand accounts, news tips, full reports, or photos that you would like to make available to readers of, please contact me.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Laurence November 4, 2006 at 5:31 am

Nathan, Thank you for this. I wonder what the role of the US might be? Is this “unfinished business” from the Tulip Revolution?

Certainly the US has the leverage to tell the opposition to “cool it.” Hall sounds like ICG is holding back from endorsing a coup, and given NGO-US government ties (USAID funds ICG, I believe), it may reflect official thinking at some level. A weak position, but better than calls for violent “regime change.” If I were the US government, I’d tell the opposition to “cool it.” Quit while you are ahead.

If matters get ugly, Bakiev may be forced by events to crack down hard–if only to show he’s no Akayev…

anon November 4, 2006 at 5:40 am

A sincere question — why should the US have a position? It seems what the US wants is independent countries in the region that can think for themselves. It seems that sitting back and watching while the various parties argue themselves to some sort of equilibrium is not a bad policy. So far, it doesn’t seem that there are many heroes in this tale…

Brian November 4, 2006 at 9:05 am

I don’t think the ICG is simply a US government puppet because it accepts government money, the same way that government funded PBS doesn’t tow the government line. ICG has been very critical of US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, which certainly is more of a high-profile theater than Kyrgyzstan. Sure it’s possible that they may be a tool of the state department, but show me evidence.

I think Michael Hall is right, in the idea that these protests could tip the country either way. Good things could come out of them if cooler heads prevail, but if they don’t then watch out. The threat of a coup could either help or hurt Bakiev, depending upon how scared he is and how news of it affects the opposition. Giving the opposition the constitutional reform that they want may sap support from those who want his overthrow.

Bertrand November 4, 2006 at 10:48 am

It doesn’t take all that much research to know that the U.S. government is by far not the major funder of the International Crisis Group. Given the U.S. contribution to the organization, it is difficult to believe they are under any sort of control from the U.S. People need to check these things out before making judgments.

Laurence November 4, 2006 at 3:23 pm

BTW There are some good updates on the situation at, IMHO…

Kyrgyz kid November 5, 2006 at 8:15 am

Opposition is doomed to fail, with their mediocre leaders. Noone of them has had an experience in dealing with real economy matters, noone. They are all much of the talkers, not doers. Melis Eshimkanov, for instance. Or Rosa Otunbaeva, former communist, transformed into democrat, what is her value? Or Tekebayev, who is no more than intellectual trash, how he’s going to lead masses?

Or Edil Baisalov, with his excessively pompous wedding party and “US puppet” reputation, is he going to win hearts of people?

They are all but human trash. Do not count on them winning.

Kyrgyzstan rather needs young professionals, who can deal with challenges posed by 21 century. That is the way to go.

Kyrgyzstan: Mass Protests Falter

Brian November 5, 2006 at 11:16 am

Kyrgyzstan rather needs young professionals, who can deal with challenges posed by 21 century. That is the way to go.

That’s the truest thing I’ve heard all week.

Ude November 5, 2006 at 12:24 pm

The President is doing the same thing US Presidents do. They don’t allow power to leave the Presidency and go to Congress. It’s tied up by lawyers. Bush does this really well. The only time power is taken from the President is when it’s going to be a Democrat. Congress generally goes along.

The Tulip Revolution is blamed on the US/CIA, so there probably is not much more left there with AID,etc. Nathan Hamm/Hale is real familiar with this and the ‘Stans’-they were all supposedly US backed and that is why no one got too carried away with the ‘dictators’ fates.

Youg professionals? Maybe Peace Corps could help, but they already there with the coups, etc.

Kyrgyz kid November 5, 2006 at 9:27 pm

IMHO: British Govt is behind disturbances in Kyrgyzstan. They have their interests in multi-billion dollar gold mining industry in Kyrgyzstan. There is information that Kyrgyz opposition leaders met with British Ambassador. They are hoping to topple Bakiev, install puppet Kyrgyz Govt, and lay their hands on Kyrgyz gold and uranium. Those so called “demonstrators” are simply street trumps, each hired for 10 dollars and bottle of vodka per day. It’s all about money and control.

Look at the faces of so called opposition:

Blair’s lobbying for gold firm backfires…3/ai_n16054815
Independent, The (London), Feb 3, 2006 by Saeed Shah
Tony Blair has received a strongly worded rebuke from the Kyrgyzstan government over his efforts to lobby the country on behalf of an AIM-listed mining company.

The Prime Minister wrote a private letter to the President of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, last month in support of Oxus Gold, which had its mining licence for a project in the country removed by the Kyrgyz government. Mr Blair had suggested in the letter Kyrgyzstan was not living up to its obligations under his global anti-corruption initiative and the affair meant “there is a real danger of damage to Kyrgyzstan’s reputation in the international financial markets”.

The Kyrgyz government delivered an angry reply from Mr Bakiyev yesterday, who told Mr Blair: “We need not be reminded of our obligations under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative…. My government is committed to implementing these international agreements and we seek your help in their legitimate fulfilment.”

The Kyrgyz government, elected last year after a popular revolution, said Oxus had not fulfilled its obligations to develop the Jerooy gold mine. Mr Bakiyev wrote: “Based on Oxus Gold’s irresponsible and unlawful behaviour, we have no confidence they and their subsidiary will meet their contractually mandated obligations to our government.” Oxus said it had fulfilled the conditions of its licence.

Laurence November 6, 2006 at 9:44 am

Former Indian ambassador M.J. Bhadrakumar has published an interesting analysis of recent Kyrgyz events in the context of US-Russian struggles for regional influence in Central Asia, in The Asia Times.

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