UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
KYRGYZSTAN: Pro-government demonstration in the capital
BISHKEK, 22 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - An estimated 10,000 people gathered in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in support of President Askar Akayev on Tuesday as the south of the country slipped further under the control of opposition protesters.
The majority of the people who filled the Ala-too square in central Bishkek to give Akayev their backing were students from state-funded universities and state employees.
Security was tight as main roads were blocked, the authorities fearing counter-demonstrations or violence from opposition supporters who have attacked government buildings and abducted officials in many southern cities.
Interior Ministry troops and riot police were posted around the main square while guards with bullet proof vests and Kalashnikov rifles stood watch around government offices, including those of the president.
"We do not want the mass disturbances happening in [the southern city of] Osh to be repeated in Bishkek", a teacher from the Kyrgyz National University, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN.
Protesters' banners carried slogans like: "No to the colourful revolutions!", "Do not allow destabilisation of our society!" and "Let's save democracy".
Some of the "demonstrators" admitted they had either been paid to attend or coerced into taking part. "I even do not know of what's going on here.
"Our classes were cancelled and we were told to be here at the meeting in support of Akayev," Bakay, a student at the Kyrgyz National University, told IRIN.
"Students and teachers of many educational institutions were involuntarily sent by their leadership, threatening to check their attendance," Dmitry Kabak, a member of the pro-government youth movement "Birge", told IRIN.
State employees at the demonstration told much the same story. "We are protesting instead of working now," Melis, a young interior ministry worker, said.
After the meeting, that was punctuated by carefully worded speeches in favour of the government, some activists distributed leaflets blaming the US State Department for the disturbances in the south that have been organised by disgruntled opposition groups and are growing into a wider movement that has vowed to unseat Akayev.
The protests have been largely confined to the south, but protesters there said they planned to march on the capital to remove the president.
Akayev said the opposition were attempting a coup by protesting over the disputed parliamentary poll, claiming the effort was financed and managed from abroad.
"Power structures can't show weakness when faced with colour revolutions in the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, the group of former Soviet republics] that are in effect coups d'etat," Akayev told reporters in Bishkek.
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