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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 22 March 2005

KYRGYZSTAN: Southern protests maintain momentum

OSH, 22 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - The provincial capital of Osh was returning to normal on Tuesday although protests and disturbances led by opposition supporters continued in the key city and in other parts of the south.

Cleaners were sweeping away pieces of broken glass in police buildings that had been stormed by protesters the day before. Pieces of posters of President Askar Akayev, which were ripped down by protesters, were still lying on the pavements. Most of the government offices were closed.

Public transport was up and running again, but not all of the city minibuses were operating and those working were full of passengers. Shops and the biggest bazaar in the region opened again after protesters took over government offices and the local airport.

Streets and cafes are full of people as usual, though parents did not bring their children to kindergartens and students have been released from classes for 10 days. Only a few banks opened.

"I did not take my children to the kindergarten. The city looks calm, but nobody knows if the chaos we had yesterday will reign again," Zulfiya, a mother of three, told IRIN.

Protesters, challenging the results of the recent parliamentary elections, have maintained a presence in front of the provincial administration building since 9 March and took over the building last week. Special police forces stormed the building on Sunday to clear the office of demonstrators but on Tuesday protesters continued to gather in front of the building.
The widespread use of underhand election methods during the elections was the straw that broke the camel's back, according to local residents.

"If the government had not interfered in the election process and Akayev had not stuffed the new parliament with his son and daughter and people loyal to him, we would not have had these disorders," Bolot, a resident of Osh, told IRIN. "On the other hand, this does not mean that a number of losers should destabilise the situation in the country and risk people's lives."

The demonstrators now appear to have extended their anger beyond the election. "I am from Kara-Suu district [some 20 km from Osh]. I don't care about the candidates, I went to the streets for justice. The current authorities are steeped in corruption and intrigue," protester Kaldarbay Suranov, 68, told IRIN.

"The majority of the protesters are residents from rural areas of the province. Every tenth Kyrgyz person is wandering in Russia in search of daily bread and tens of thousands are in Kazakhstan while the authorities have everything and tell us fairy tales," Kadicha Suyunbayeva, a protester from the southern Karakulja district, told IRIN.

In nearby Jalal-Abad city, 2,000 protestors held a meeting in the centre of the city on Tuesday, Alexander, a local resident, told IRIN. "There are lots of people on the square, but violence has stopped. The city is calm," he said.

Saniya Sagnayeva, an Osh-based analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told IRIN that neither officials in Bishkek nor the opposition had full control over the situation and that it was hard to predict where the protests would lead.
Opposition leaders held another meeting in Osh on Tuesday that attracted around 1,200 people. Activists urged protestors not to set buildings and cars on fire, as some drunken young protesters did the day before. They called upon people to stop distributing alcohol and keep calm.

Roza Otunbayeva, head of the Ata-Jurt opposition movement, ruled out any negotiations with the Kyrgyz leadership, saying that the only goal remaining was to oust the government in the capital Bishkek. Supporters of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, another opposition leader, said that they were ready to negotiate, although only with President Akayev.

Most of the protesters in Osh whom IRIN spoke to said that both Bakiyev and Otunbayeva could represent the united opposition at talks with officials in Bishkek.

The People's Council in Osh, an alternative body established by the opposition, has started creating its new administration structure, activists told IRIN. Opposition leaders held talks with law-enforcement officials who had joined or did not oppose the protesters. Some police officers took off their uniforms and were seen patrolling the streets with teams of activists.
Bazarbay Solpuyev, a representative of the People's Council, told IRIN that strong measures would be taken against any violators of public order be those protesters or city residents who didn't join them.

Many city residents support protests, Asamidin Samatov, a pensioner in Osh, told IRIN, adding, however: "But not extreme action such as pogroms of government buildings. Many people are now afraid to send their kids to schools or universities. The opposition should restore order."

But many residents just wanted a return to normality. "I'm neither for the Bishkek officials nor for the violent opposition. The opposition has brought lots of young violent drunk people onto streets putting innocent people's lives in danger for the sake of few seats in the parliament," Khakim, a 65-year-old resident of Osh, told IRIN. "But president [Akayev] wants more and more power for himself and his family. He has to step down with dignity to maintain peace and order."

Although no negotiations or talks between the government and opposition have started, Akayev said on state television on Tuesday that although the government would not declare a state of emergency, the protests amounted to a coup attempt and would be dealt with accordingly.


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