Waiting for the Grand Convergence of..

by Teo on 4/9/2007

United-Front opposition protests kicked off today throughout northern Kyrgyzstan – reportedly ranging from hundreds to thousands of demonstrators in four main district centers. Just as with the alleged 100 hunger strikers parked outside Parliament, numbers seem largely inflated with Russian press taking the lead. (Over 3 visits, the most I’ve seen just standing around is 60 people.) Opposition protests in southern Kyrgyzstan [Bakiyev’s turf] both on the 9th and the 11th were called off late last week to avoid conflict, after a United Front office was attacked three times.

Bishkek police are reportedly beefing up their numbers. Almaz Atambayev, the new Kyrgyz prime minister has categorically forbidden law enforcement agencies from using firearms to enforce order during public rallies, while 24.kg reports Bishkek police buying 1000s of rubber bullets from a private shop. I can only wonder what other last minute purchases they’re making.

Meanwhile, the opposition reiterated its demands for “early presidential elections and reform of the Constitution without Bakiyev’s participation,” as Atambayev is set to forward a newly completed draft of the constitution to Bakiyev on April 10. The United Front has dropped promises from an earlier 200,000 protestors set to show on Wednesday to a “sure 50,000,” while most news-sites echo Kulov’s cocksure prediction : “power will be peacefully transferred on April 11.”

Of late, some of the more fanciful news pieces surrounding the Bakiyev-Kulov/South-North struggle you come across imply a growing “information war,” as one Bishkek local labeled it for me. From suggesting Hizb-ut-Tahrir may strike during the protests, to an ‘annoyed’ Russia set to drop in and ‘suggest an alternative,’ a few journalists are apparently either out to grind their own axes or someone else’s.

News consumption probably differs a fair bit inside vs. outside Bishkek, but it’s disturbing either way what some choose to buy into. Just last week, many Bishkek locals were eager to believe that America was going to attack Iran last Saturday under “Operation Bite” – seemingly a Russian media invention.

Earlier arguments devaluing Kulov’s potential seem less valid now, with both the moderate (For Reforms) and radical (United Front) wings of the opposition now joined for the April 11 protests. But to what degree their cooperation holds remains to be seen – whether the support is ideological, financial or just in spirit is seemingly not reported. During protests last November, cynical columnists and cartoonists pointed to the networks of funding on both pro and anti camps, that supported bands of otherwise disinterested and unengaged protestors – a phenomenon that is sure to be just as widespread, provided the United Front has the funding.

As Kulov surely remembers, Bakiyev bends for reforms only under extreme circumstances – such as city squares indefinitely filled with protestors. Without funding from the likes of “For Reforms” financiers like Omurbek Babanov, it’s unclear if Kulov can himself ensure protests can really be ‘indefite.’ While resigning under pressure is probably not something Bakiyev is going to allow, a repeat scenario of hasty constitutional reforms is more likely. The question of course is how far Bakiyev and Kulov will hold out for an agreeable compromise and accordingly, how controlled the amassed protestors will be. From the Institute of Public Policy, in a post well worth reading, political analyst Batyr Isakov shares this:

If to consider how high has been the level of aggressiveness of political statements of opposition leaders and responding statements and actions of Bakiev’s supporters, and how consistently, though not very openly, the issue of regionalism has been used as a slogan by both sides, the probability of unpredictable events remains very high.

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