Russia behind Kyrgyzstan regime change?

Former Kyrgyz foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva announced April 8 that she will lead an interim government in Kyrgyzstan after violent protests the previous day apparently ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his administration. Otunbayeva, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, urged Bakiyev to resign and said that her temporary government will rule for six months until the country holds democratic elections. Bakiyev, who has fled the capital Bishkek for the southern city of Osh, said in a statement that he will not resign.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced that he will send an envoy to Kyrgyzstan and encouraged calm in the unstable country. Ban said in a statement that "while freedom of assembly is an essential element of any democratic society, the rule of law must be respected."

The violent protests, which appear prompted in part by a drastic increase in utility costs, began late April 6 in the city Talas then spread throughout the country. Reports vary as to the number of citizens killed during the protests, with the opposition reporting more than 100 deaths and some 400 injuries. The deaths were apparently overwhelmingly at the hands of the security forces.

Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev was killed during an attack by protesters, while former prime minister and presidential candidate Almazbek Atambayev and former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev were among the many opposition leaders arrested. The protesters also took control of the country's television station, and approximately a thousand people surrounded the prosecutor-general's office and set it on fire. Shopping malls and other businesses were also looted and torched.

The protests came a week after Ban called on Kyrgyzstan to protect human rights. The statement follows recent events in the country such as the shutdown of an opposition newspaper, a police raid on a local television station that resulted in the station being taken off the air, and the confiscation of computers from a video web portal based on allegations of pirated software use. (China Daily, CCTV, April 9; Jurist, April 8)

Omurbek Tekebayev, a former Kyrgyz opposition leader who has taken charge of constitutional matters in the new government, told the press that "Russia played its role in ousting Bakiyev." The statement contradicts Moscow's claims of non-involvement in the conflict. "You've seen the level of Russia's joy when they saw Bakiyev gone," he told Reuters. "So now there is a high probability that the duration of the US air base's presence in Kyrgyzstan will be shortened." Another unnamed representative of the new regime was quoted calling for the closure of Manas air base, which is used by the US military.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied that Moscow played a part in the regime change. But he was the first foreign leader to recognise Roza Otunbayeva as Kyrgyzstan's leader, and rang her soon after she announced she was in charge. (The Telegraph, April 9)

See our last posts on Kyrgyzstan, Russia and the Great Game for Central Asia

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.