UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wesnesday 23 March 2005
KYRGYZSTAN: Election protests reach the capital
BISHKEK, 23 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - A peaceful anti-government demonstration in the capital, Bishkek, against flawed parliamentary elections was violently dispersed by Kyrgyz riot police on Wednesday.
About 200 security personnel encircled an estimated 100 protesters in the central square, intent on bringing the demonstrations that have paralysed much of the south of the country to Bishkek.
Some of the speakers and opposition supporters were arrested by the police after security forces had used a megaphone to order the crowds to disperse. "OMON [riot police] came in buses armed with shields and clubs. We tried to stop them attacking us, but they beat us and dragged our people away, one by one," Ulan, one of the protest organisers, told IRIN.
The attack on the demonstrators came on the same day the new interior minister warned that authorities may use force to restore order and prevent events in the south repeating themselves in the capital.
"Our primary task is to restore constitutional order in all regions, but strictly in accordance with the constitution," Interior Minister Keneshbek Dushebayev said. "The law gives us every right to take action, including using physical force, special means and firearms."
Edil Baisalov, head of the election-monitoring NGO "For Democracy and Civil Society" and one of the leaders of the protest was seen being bundled off by the police.
Also in custody, according to the AP news agency, was Bolotbek Maripov, who ran unsuccessfully against the daughter of President Askar Akayev in the disputed 27 February election. The chair of the Independent Union of Journalists (IUJ), Azamat Kalman, was badly beaten up by the riot police, according to eye witness reports.
One passer-by near the demonstration said she had seen three buses with some 24-30 people detained in each.
"Yesterday there was a pro-government demonstration in Bishkek, why were the police doing nothing to those people, yet attacking us like dogs today?" Sayra Sagyzbaeva, a protester from Bishkek told IRIN, adding that she was on the streets because President Akayev had been too long in power and the country needed change.
"I think this police violence is a violation of our basic rights. We have a right to conduct peaceful demonstrations," Bakyt Sherniyaz, another protester, said. The protesters also had to contend with government workers, many sporting white polyester berets, who were seen trying to provoke them into violent confrontation.
"We've already had 15 years suffering from his [Akayev's] leadership. Do you know how people live in villages? They just have bread and water for supper, they are angry," Timur Baldakmatov, who had recently arrived in the capital from the troubled south, told IRIN.