Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kyrgyzstan News Roundup (Updated)

By R.B. Moreno

New unrest involving at least three cities in southern Kyrgyzstan is making headlines today. Walking home along a railroad track in the North, however, it's hard to tell anything is afoot, save for the scowl of a soldier in wrinkled fatigues. Even this old man brightened when asked for a kiosk selling detergent at his crossing, where change comes in fistfuls of 10 som notes (each about 0.25 USD). Let's hope the country's politics stay calm enough for my socks to dry. And for volunteers already at work in the South to stay on.

From AFP, "Kyrgyz opposition seizes two regional HQs: reports." An excerpt:
Opponents of Kyrgyzstan's interim government Thursday seized regional administration buildings in the two main cities in the south, raising fears the volatile state is on the brink of new chaos.

Hundreds of supporters of ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev stormed the administration building in the southern city of Jalalabad and occupied the premises, a local official told AFP.

Earlier, hundreds of opponents of the interim government seized the regional headquarters in the southern city of Osh, the main city in the region, a spokesman for the regional administration told AFP.

Another group also seized control of the airport in Osh, one of the interim government's members, Omurbek Tekebayev, told reporters ... Pro-Bakiyev supporters also seized control of the regional administration building in Batken, a smaller town also in the south, officials said.
From RFE/RL, "Former Kyrgyz President's Supporters Take Over Government Building In Osh." An excerpt:
RFE/RL correspondents at the scene say Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was appointed Osh provincial governor by Kyrgyzstan's interim government last month, left the building surrounded by his guards.

Our correspondents say former Osh Governor Mamasadyk Bakirov and his deputy then entered their "offices."

Later, both Bakirov and Jeenbekov addressed the crowd outside the government building, where supporters of the interim government also gathered.

Bakirov called for the restoration of legality and the return of Bakiev. Jeenbekov called for calm and promised that the interim government would meet people's social demands and carry out reforms.

Interior Ministry spokesman Bakyt Seitov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that police were maintaining order in the city.
From the BBC, "Opponents of Kyrgyz government seize regional offices." An excerpt:
Witnesses said the raid came after a demonstration in Osh's central square by some 1,000 supporters of the old regime.

A parallel protest, by some 500 supporters of the interim government, was also taking place in Osh.
From Reuters, "Kyrgyz protesters take over local government HQ in south." An excerpt:
In Bishkek, the capital, interim government chief of staff Edil Baisalov told Reuters that "measures will be taken to restore authority" in the city of Osh. He did not elaborate.

"Those are actions of revanchist forces, they will fizzle out soon," interim government spokesman Farid Niyazov said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Bakyt Seitov said police were monitoring the situation and would not allow an escalation of unrest.
And on Wednesday, from the Canadian Press, "Hundreds rally in Kyrgyz capital in call for return of mayor in largest meeting since uprising." An excerpt:
The demonstration was peaceful, but showed that tensions remain high in the Central Asian country that is of strategic concern to both Washington and Moscow ... the provisional government has warned that Bakiyev supporters may provoke disturbances in a bid to destabilize the country ... The demonstrators on Wednesday held signs in support of former Bishkek mayor Nariman Tuleyev, a Bakiyev loyalist sought by the interim authorities for complicity in organizing riots in the wake of last month's protests.

Also Wednesday, the security services detained the head of the Communist Party for questioning over his conduct during the April 7 disturbances. Iskhak Masaliyev was held at the airport after arriving from Moscow.
Update (May 14, 2010) -- TV pictures of stick-wielding crowds battling for control of Osh's government (interspersed with a cheery weather forecast calling for partly cloudy skies in Bishkek) made for interesting lunchtime conversation today. A regional governor came on the air shortly thereafter to assure viewers that the interim government is restoring order in southern Kyrgyzstan.

From Reuters, "Kyrgyz government supporters retake Osh administration." An excerpt:
Backers of Kyrgyzstan's interim government regained control of a key government building in the southern city of Osh on Friday, a day after it was seized in what authorities said was a coup attempt by their opponents.

In another southern city, Jalalabad, gunfire broke out as thousands of interim government supporters surrounding the provincial administration headquarters scuffled with opponents holding the building, two eyewitnesses said by telephone.

In the capital, Bishkek, interim authorities said ousted leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev was behind the seizure of government buildings in all three southern provinces and announced the arrest of a Bakiyev ally they said organized the unrest.

"Bakiyev is behind all this," interim government deputy chairman Omurbek Tekebayev said on state television.
From the AP, "Kyrgyz gov't supporters try to retake offices." An excerpt:
In Osh, Kyrgyzstan's No. 2 city ... [the] pro-Bakiyev crowd held the building until the arrival of a large group of people, many of them young men and middle-aged women wearing blue armbands — the color of interim Prime Minister Roza Otunbayeva's Social-Democrat party.

The groups threw rocks at one another, then Bakiyev adherents fled the building.

In Jalal-Abad, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) from Osh, the situation remained tense in the early afternoon.

Around 200 Bakiyev supporters, some with automatic rifles, were holed up in the government building. A column of about 4,000 backers of the Ata-Meken party, which supports the interim government, arrived to try to evict the occupiers, but quickly dispersed amid the gunfire.

Several hundred Ata-Meken activists, armed with guns and sticks, remained on the square near the government building as party representatives delivered speeches from a rostrum.
From VOA, "Deadly Clashes Erupt in Southern Kyrgyzstan." An excerpt:
At least one person has died and some 30 others were injured during violence that witnesses say involved gunfire and street battles with sticks and stones.
And from the UN: "Fresh clashes in Kyrgyzstan prompt call for restraint from UN chief." An excerpt:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has issued a call for calm and restraint as reports of violence and loss of life emerge from Kyrgyzstan, where clashes have broken out between supporters and opponents of the Provisional Government.

One person was reportedly killed and at least 58 wounded in the seizures of Government buildings in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Update (May 15, 2010) -- From the AP, "Kyrgyz governor says new authorities in control." An excerpt:
Kyrgyzstan's restive south calmed down Saturday after a failed attempt to take control by supporters of the nation's deposed president in which one person died and dozens were wounded.

Jalal-Abad regional Gov. Bektur Asanov insisted that supporters of the interim government were firmly in control of the city after two days of riots — the worst violence since last month's forcible government change.

Asanov spoke in an interview with The Associated Press as laborers worked to clear up the aftermath of the seizure of the regional government building. He vowed there will be no repetition of the violence that raised doubts about the new authorities' ability to control the south, where support for former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev still runs strong.

"I think this attempt to seize power that was made the day before yesterday was the last attempt to destabilize the situation made by destructive forces led by Bakiyev's brothers," Asanov told the AP. "The people showed their force and nobody will be able to do this again in the future."
Update (May 19, 2010) -- From the AP, "2 dead as ethnic clash breaks out in Kyrgyzstan." An excerpt:
Clashes between rival ethnic groups killed at least two people and hurt 50 on Wednesday, raising fears of a new cycle of violence as this Central Asian nation struggles to restore order after a bloody revolt last month.

Eyewitnesses in the southern town of Jalal-Abad said thousands of ethnic Kyrgyz attempted to storm a private university that serves as the focus of the minority Uzbek community. Local residents said gunfire broke out as crowds approached the building, which they said had been encircled by a cordon of special security forces.

Kyrgyzstan has been struggling to maintain stability in the weeks after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted from power amid deadly clashes between government forces and demonstrators that claimed 89 lives.

Tensions have long simmered between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek — both Sunni Muslim groups — in the former Soviet nation's restive south. In 1990, hundreds were killed in a violent land dispute between the two communities in towns across southern Kyrgyzstan, which borders Uzbekistan.

It was not clear who opened fire in Jalal-Abad, but Interior Ministry spokeswoman Gulsara Alieva said that nobody in the crowd appeared to be armed.

At least two people were killed and 50 injured, according to the Health Ministry. Some of the injured were being treated for gunshot wounds.

Witnesses said the crowd assembled in front of the university threw stones at the building and shouted demands for the hand-over of Uzbek community leader Kadyrjan Batyrov, whom they charge with inciting racial tension. Batyrov, a wealthy businessman, paid for the construction of the Peoples' Friendship University.

In the middle of the afternoon, privately owned Akipress news agency cited eyewitnesses as saying that about 1,500 ethnic Uzbeks, some of them wielding spears, were moving toward the central square, where a crowd of ethnic Kyrgyz was assembled. Soldiers barred the Uzbeks' movement toward the square, the agency reported.

Interim Prime Minister Roza Otunbayeva said every possible measure is being taken to defuse the situation.
Update (May 20, 2010) -- From the AP, "Kyrgyzstan unrest persists; 2 officials attacked." An excerpt:
More than 2,000 supporters of Kyrgyzstan's deposed president have rallied near a southern town wracked by ethnic violence as unrest persists in the Central Asian country.

Several residents told The Associated Press the acting defense minister and a regional governor were attacked and briefly held hostage Thursday outside Jalal-Abad.

The town was rocked Wednesday by ethnic clashes that left two dead and more than 70 injured, prompting authorities to boost military reinforcements and announce a two-week state of emergency there.

The interim authorities that came to power after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's ouster last month have earned widespread popular acceptance. But unrest has persisted around Bakiyev's former stronghold in the south.
And from the The Wall Street Journal, "Kyrgyzstan Struggles to Quell Violence." An excerpt:
The interim government of Kyrgyzstan raised wages for police and military officers Thursday as it struggled to consolidate power and contain politically tinged ethnic violence in the former stronghold of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

The raises were announced after ethnic Kyrgyz protesters assaulted the governor of the southern city of Jalal-Abad, where two people died in clashes Wednesday at a university defended by ethnic Uzbeks. News agencies said the governor, who had been trying to calm an angry crowd, was treated for injuries at a hospital.

"The situation is explosive," Edil Baisalov, the acting president's chief of staff, said in a telephone interview from Jalal-Abad.

He described the violence there as a struggle between ethnic Kyrgyz- and Uzbek-led clans to fill a local power vacuum left by Mr. Bakiyev's ouster from office and departure from the country last month. The interim authorities who took over in Bishkek, the capital, have gained popular acceptance in most of the country, which is home to both U.S. and Russian military bases.

But Mr. Bakiyev had a loyal following in the Jalal-Abad region. The unrest there is being fueled, the chief of staff said, by "frustration among some residents, who fear that they will be denied representation in the new government."

Police officers have been reluctant to intervene in the disorders. On Wednesday acting President Roza Otunbayeva declared a state of emergency and sent army units to enforce a nightly curfew in Jalal-Abad and an adjacent rural district.

The pay increases announced Thursday are intended to get the police back to work and keep the army loyal. The pay of officers, who now earn $200 to $300 per month, was boosted by 50% to 80%.

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