Kyrgyzstan: Protests Continue

by Nathan Hamm on 11/6/2006 · 12 comments

Many thanks to Teo Kaye for use of his photos. Click on any of them to find more or to see larger sizes.

The News
Protests continue in Kyrgyzstan. Protesters today marched on the White House. One report says that a few dozen police officers joined protesters while the rest abandoned their position, leaving the national guard to handle security. Three governors, those of Talas, Chui, and Naryn, also resigned and joined the opposition; significant because it indicates there is likely something of a regional element to the protests.

RFE/RL reports that today’s crowd numbered about 10,000 and that numbers grew after President Bakiev submitted his proposed constitutional changes to the parliament. The Associated Press is calling the draft a concession to the protesters, but RFE/RL reports that the opposition is unsatisfied with the proposals because they consider Bakiev to have only submitted amendments to the existing constitution rather than fundamentally rewriting it such that that it weakens the power of the president. And they have a point. The only significant change in the presidential power is that the legislature would have the power to appoint the prime minister. One opposition parliamentarian told the BBC that the president is deliberately trying to create a government crisis so that he can dismiss the parliament.

Another apparent concession came when the head of Bakiev’s administration addressed protesters to inform them of a decree removing the head of the Interior Ministry, Osmanali Guronov, and replacing him with his deputy, Omurbek Subanaliev. He told the crowd that the president will remove Moldomusa Kongantiev, the head of Bishkek police, from office, meeting one of their demands. Another report says that Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kogantiev will also be dismissed.

A large enough number of lawmakers have joined the protests to prevent the parliament from achieving a quorum, and they will attempt to sway a large enough number to attend an emergency session. ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL report that voting on a new constitution is at the top of the agenda. The AP says that impeachment is also on the agenda. If unable to reach a deal, one of the parliamentarians said the body will dissolve itself. They sound confident though. MP Temir Sariyev said that in the next two days there will be a “constitutional change of government.” (Many thanks to Sean Roberts for pointing out the AKIpress rebroadcast site so that those of us outside of Kyrgyzstan can access their reports.)


Visit neweurasia for some of the opinions in the Russian blogosphere on the protests. They also report on Kazakhstan’s worries over the protests.

Kyrgyz Report continues to do yeoman’s work, posting frequent updates and lots of photos. Dan Fick makes a good observation in the comments.

The Roberts Report is also posting great summaries of events and valuable links.

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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 6, 2006 at 12:31 pm

Well, the first Tulip revolution went pretty badly. Let’s hope this one doesn’t end up even worse for poor Kyrygzystan…

Brian November 6, 2006 at 6:25 pm

It looks bad when we look at it through a microscope, but maybe sometimes countries just have to sort things out. Good thing is that there’s no violence so far… something you’d already see in many other countries many days ago.

Sean R. Roberts November 6, 2006 at 7:38 pm

I agree with Brian. I don’t see any other Central Asian countries ready to have a sophisticated discussion about their constitutions. It is interesting that Kyrgyzstan is often seen as the least “progressive” of the popular regime changes in the former USSR. People in Kyrgyzstan at least are discussing real issues about how the country must get from where it is now to where it wants to be.

Amira November 6, 2006 at 7:50 pm

I’ve not been able to find much about the rest of the country’s views on what is going on in Bishkek. Is there any support in the south?

And how are things going in Bishkek outside downtown? I’d heard the universities were closed on Thursday, but I doubt that has continued, or even if they all were. And are stores open? Is the merchandice being taken out of the stores like it was in the spring? Are people out on the streets?

David Huwiler November 6, 2006 at 11:19 pm

I agree that Kyrgyzstan may well be leading the way in Central Asia. For years the Kyrgyz people were passive in the face of massive corruption and ineptitude. That is changing. After March 24, things are not the same in Kyrgyzstan, and people realize that they have the right–and the means–to change the government when it does not serve their needs.

Michael Hancock November 7, 2006 at 4:09 am

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but I am not nearly as optimistic about this Tulip Two Revolution. These protests are not symbolic of anything except some improved organizational skills. The idea that the ‘people’ realize they have any control over their government, or the right to control it, is ridiculous to me. The Soviet Union is not dead, friends – it’s merely changed its face to keep up with the times. These people are marching on the White House because someone told them to. It is as organized as any of the “protests” or “rallies” in Central Asia. When they aren’t organized, you see Andijan, or Bishkek last year, with the looting and vandalism. It is my belief that this is entirely playing into the hands of some people in the current administration. If the parliament isn’t happy and wants more power, I don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it. Granted, I’m not in Kyrgyzstan, but I think I have a bit of a handle on how Central Asians, ethnicity notwithstanding, view their government.

And, as Amira was getting at, what about the rest of the country? What’s the opinion from Osh and Naryn?

However, I’ll say that I’m curious about the Akims resigning and “joining the opposition.” I hardly think anyone would suddenly see the light because of a protest – it’s probably just opportunistic band-wagoning. But still – aren’t the Akims all presidential appointees, as in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan?

I’m interested to hear arguments against my pessimism. I hope I’m off on this, but I’ve been jaded by almost two years in Central Asia. I can’t help but think that all of this is being completely misunderstood, and that the press is being someone’s puppet.

Laurence November 7, 2006 at 5:06 am

Sean, What about this report:

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Government supporters and opposition demonstrators clashed Tuesday in the Kyrgyz capital, throwing bottles, lobbing rocks and beating one another with sticks.

Interior Ministry troops tried to separate the protesters, setting off what appeared to be smoke bombs that released tear gas.

Opposition lawmakers gather to pose for photographers after a special session at the parliament in Bishkek, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. Opposition lawmakers voted early Tuesday on a new draft constitution that would trim the powers of President Kurmbanbek Bakiyev. It is unclear what legal weight this move by opposition lawmakers would carry since only a minority of lawmakers were present. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze) (Misha Japaridze – AP)

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Three ambulances could be seen carrying injured people away from the square. Russian news agencies, quoting the Kyrgyz Health Ministry, said six people had been hospitalized, including four with gunshot wounds.

The clash erupted as the two camps held rival rallies in the center of Bishkek on the sixth day of anti-government protests aimed at forcing President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to resign.

Earlier Bakiyev angrily rejected an overnight move by opposition lawmakers to adopt a new constitution.

“Some lawmakers tried to usurp power last night,” Bakiyev told a news conference. “Without getting a quorum, in the still of the night and secretly from the people they went ahead, ignoring the (current) constitution and the law.” A quorum is considered to be 51 lawmakers.

Is this really “a sophisticated discussion about their constitution”?

Jonathan P November 7, 2006 at 7:46 am

… and just how would Sean have known about these events, since they took place after he made his comment?

I think his point was that it seems that people in Kyrgyzstan (including many politicians and police) are willing to put their necks on the line for the sake of some kind of debate over the direction of the country. And, at the same time, the president is willing to allow them to do this for awhile before he calls out his dogs.

Can you imagine several thousand people gathering in Tashkent for something like this? Do you think it would last 6 days without a violent incident?

Brian November 7, 2006 at 9:31 am

Ok, I’ll give you the fact that this is more orchestrated than it may at first seem, and that some powerful figures are behind the people protests. But first, that’s not that unusual. Even in developed democracies, supposed “people power” moments are orchestrated by powerful interest groups. You think that anti-gay marriage and minimum wage initiatives on the ballot are there because of pure people power instead of being an attempt to advance one political party? Second, if what the reformists are asking for can genuinely make the government a little less authoritarian and a little more representative then it’s probably worth it.

What’s the alternative anyway? We agree that Kyrgyzstan’s revolution didn’t go as well as hoped. So now what? Sit at home and hope that Bakiev works out all the problems?

Michael Hancock November 7, 2006 at 10:59 am

Well, no matter what happens, we’re all going to sit at home. I’m pretty sure we’re just interested parties. That’s a polite way of saying “Monday morning quarterback.”

I’m willing to say that this protest may well evolve into something else, and I’m not about to say that anything done politically in America is done smarter or more purely for the people. That seems a bit beside the point, to bring Western politics into this.

I just don’t think we should feel so bad, or so good, when we hear about the “rising troubles in Central Asia.” Until there is more independent journalism [I don’t mean Russian reporters from Vremya, Pravda, etc] in the area, we should take what we hear with a chunk of salt.

Mostly I just hope that the Kyrgyz can work something out without the country falling to pieces. They don’t have a lot going for them other than Tourism, it would seem, and that’s something that always suffers in political crises.

Kyrgyz kid November 7, 2006 at 10:28 pm

IMF and WB guys really messed up Kyrgyz economy. Roots of Kyrgyz corruption and poverty gain its legs from IMF and WB “reforms”. Kyrgyz people ain’t blind. What they see is the neo-colonial ways of treating of Kyrgyzstan by West. Cameco’s Kumtor gold mining big fraud, demise of Kyrgyz industry by PESAC “reforms”, US airbase rent payment corruption fiasco, unpopular HIPC initiative, corruption involved in Western “aid” (wide Kyrgyz public knows that so called IMF and WB “aid loans” were merely a fraud, and came as “technical” loans, and were channeled mostly back to US accounts as “consultancy” fees.
That all happened once upon time in Latin America.
I know that IMF and WB policies are hated there. Those neo-colonial policies triggered leftist movement in Latin America. History repeats itself.
If you want to be respected and to be partners further with Kyrgyzstan, learn to deal with us with a little bit of honesty.

Michael Hancock November 9, 2006 at 12:02 pm

From what I’ve seen in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Kid is pretty much on the money. I met some IMF consultants and other World Bank types scouting out situations in KZ, and I had a chance to ask them what they were doing, for who, why, and what was the point. Different kinds of development [to help the average Kazakh, they said], but the money for that development goes to the consultant, on whose advice they hire foreign contractors, who then bring in largely foreign labor, with the most basic work going to local Government Contracted support. In South KZ, this is being done to improve COTTON irrigation, among other things. Good lord. Why are they trying to save the Aral? And they still grow rice in Kyzylorda, of all places. Rice in the Desert.

But I’m off subject.

I entirely agree with Kyrgyz Kid that the West needs to wake up and take responsibility for its business actions. Politicians may not be at fault, but they could try to reign them in, or at least point out that the exploitation of the poor and uneducated isn’t actually one of America’s Foreign Policy Ideals.

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