More unrest in Kyrgyzstan

More than 1,000 Kyrgyz troops fired tear gas June 17 to drive protesters from a key state building, foiling what the government said was an attempt by supporters of the ousted president to regain power. Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev blamed the riots on followers of his predecessor Askar Akayev, who fled into exile after a coup in March, and said he would personally defend his government “with a gun in my hands if necessary.”

The Central Asian nation of 5 million has been unstable since Akayev’s ousting, and was further jolted by an uprising last month in neighbouring Uzbekistan, where troops killed hundreds of demonstrators in the town of Andijan. Dozens of refugees fled to Kyrgyzstan. Police in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek drove the protesters out of the government building and chased them through nearby streets, shooting in the air and firing tear gas. The protests were sparked by the exclusion of would-be opposition candidate Urmatbek Baryktabasov from running in presidential elections next month. Electoral officials said he is a Kazakh citizen and hence ineligible.

“The republic has the strength to halt activities aimed at harming our citizens. If there are such attempts, they will get a forceful response,” Bakiyev told reporters after a closed parliament discussion of the events. “Today’s events were organised by people close to Akayev.” Parliamentary deputies linked Baryktabasov to Akayev’s son-in-law, who is wanted by Kyrgyz police keen to investigate his business interests.

The crowds had dispersed by evening, although around half the city center’s shops were closed, their owners scared of a repetition of the looting that followed the March coup. Around 1,000 soldiers and police ringed the main government building. Hundreds of civilians in pink arm bands volunteered to defend the building and sat behind its high fence.

“All these misguided people, and there were 5,000 of them if not more, have been thrown out of the city. We have detained around 300 of them,” acting Interior Minister Muratbek Sutalinov told Reuters. “An attempt was made to seize the government buiding and probably state power in the country as a whole.”

Bakiyev pledged that he would not allow the government to be overthrown, and the upcoming presidential vote, which he is widely favored to win, will go ahead as planned.

“I will not run away … And I will defend this government with a gun in my hands if necessary. I know how to use a gun,” he said. (Reuters, June 17)

See our last post on Kyrgyzstan.