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Central Asia: Regional Officials Cautious As Oppositions Rejoice At Events In Kyrgyzstan

By Valentinas Mite

The official response in Central Asia has been muted to the swift ouster of President Askar Akaev's administration on Thursday. Such caution is to be expected in a region populated by regimes with notoriously spotty records on democracy and human rights. Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped into that void during a visit to Armenia on Friday, condemning what he described as "illegitimate" efforts to overthrow the Kyrgyz government. But he also hastened to say that Moscow knows the Kyrgyz opposition well and wants to maintain relations with Bishkek.

Prague, 25 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking during an official visit to the Transcaucasus, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed disappointment over the way events transpired in nearby Kyrgyzstan.

"It is regrettable that once again, political problems in a post-Soviet country are being resolved in an illegitimate way and are accompanied by chaos and casualties," Putin said.

But the Russian leader also suggested that Moscow is ready to cooperate with the ascendant Kyrgyz opposition. Putin praised them for their contributions to bilateral relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan:

"We know these people [the opposition] very well," Putin said. "They helped develop relations between Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation when they held government positions for several years in the past. They have done a lot to establish today's level of bilateral relations."

Russia's unique position at the heart of the former Soviet empire gives it considerable influence -- both direct and indirect -- in Central Asia.

Veterans Of Revolution

Meanwhile, government leaders in Ukraine and Georgia -- where recent revolutions toppled post-Soviet leaders in favor of reform-minded opposition movements -- on Friday urged peaceful solutions to the problems in Kyrgyzstan. They also offered their governments' help.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko: "Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution are both good answers to how such conflicts can be settled. Of course, we are offering our assistance in resolving this national conflict [in Kyrgyzstan]."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili added that while Georgia's sympathies are with the Kyrgyz opposition, Tbilisi is not in the business of exporting trouble.

"We are not exporters of revolutions," Saakashvili said. "Our revolutions were similar [to Kyrgyz events]. That was n-o-t because someone fabricated them somewhere, but simply because people react to injustice in the same way in all countries."

Tight-Lipped Officials In Central Asia

Among Central Asian states like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, official reaction has ranged from cautious to nonexistent.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev offered his explanation of events in Kyrgyzstan to a group of business leaders in Astana today. He blamed ousted Kyrgyz President Akaev's neglect of economic and social factors during more than a decade of rule. Nazarbaev said the Kyrgyz opposition was fueled by poverty and social ills, and the uprising made possible by lax security measures.

"It is absolutely clear that social and economic problems that accumulated for years in [Kyrgyzstan] have led to mass poverty and unemployment," Nazarbaev said. "This sparked unrest in many parts of the country. The weakness of the authorities also played its negative role in allowing rioters and thugs to act as they pleased."

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan's state-owned print and electronic media avoided altogether reporting on events in Kyrgyzstan.

The governments in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- who had closed their borders at the height of the demonstrations to avoid the spread of instability -- have maintained official silence.

Opposition Admirers

Opposition parties across the region -- from the Caucasus to Central Asia -- have been more outspoken.

One of the leaders of Kazakhstan's Ak Zhol opposition party, Bolat Abilov, told RFE/RL that yesterday's events in Kyrgyzstan carry a lesson for any dictators in the region.

"It is astounding," Abilov said. "It is a message for other dictators that changes are necessary, that people need fair elections, that people simply need decent elections. That is the main point."

A bloc of Kazakh opposition parties known as "For A Fair Kazakhstan" said in an open letter to the Kyrgyz people today that Kazakhs are proud of their Kyrgyz neighbors. They congratulated the Kyrgyz people for overthrowing what they describe as an "authoritarian" regime that was "based on clan and family relations."

The political opposition in Azerbaijan also welcomed the changes in Kyrgyzstan. Isa Ganbar of Azerbaijan's Musavat (Equality) Party said the demonstrations clearly showed that people are losing patience with lies and dictatorship.

Iqbal Agazade of the Umid (Hope) party suggested that events in Kyrgyzstan might eventually provide a boost to the Azerbaijani or Armenian oppositions. But he predicted that the early effects will be strongest among Kyrgyzstan's immediate neighbors.

"I wouldn't say that Kyrgyz developments would have an immediate effect on Azerbaijan or Armenia," Agazade said. "Surely it will affect -- especially Azerbaijan -- psychologically. But not in a direct way. I think the more immediate effect will be on the countries of the region, especially Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and also Kazakhstan."

Elections in Azerbaijan in October of 2003 were criticized by international observers as marred by fraud. The voting legitimized the transfer of power from Heydar Aliev to his son, Ilham.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh, Azerbaijani, Turkmen services contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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