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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[31.05.2OO2] Kyrgyz leader heads abroad, turmoil mounts at home. By Dmitry Solovyov

BISHKEK, May 31 (Reuters) - Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev starts an ambitious five-day foreign tour on Monday, leaving his nation simmering with social unrest and the small but vocal opposition rejecting his call to cooperate.
Akayev, in office since 1990 and once viewed as the most liberal of ex-Soviet Central Asia's authoritarian rulers, has accepted the resignation of his government, admitting that senior officials were to blame for five civilian deaths in fierce riots in the south in March.
An opposition leader from the south, whose arrest triggered the bloody clashes with police, was sentenced to a year in prison but immediately released. Akayev rushed to invite the opposition to participate in a broad coalition government.
But the opposition has refused to join, saying the cabinet of new Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev, approved by the compliant parliament at Akayev's request, "promises to be a weak one".
While analysts puzzle over what turn the country may take, and with the line-up of the new government still a mystery, Akayev's office said on Friday he would be away for five days.
"I don't see any reason to get excited about the president's visit abroad," State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov, a senior Akayev aide, told Reuters.
Akayev heads to neighbouring Kazakhstan on Monday for a regional summit on confidence-building in Asia.
He then visits Switzerland and finally St Petersburg in Russia to meet other heads of state of the recently formed Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security and economic body.
He is due back on Friday, but Ibraimov played down fears the country may descend into chaos in his absence.
"I do not foresee any problems," he said. "Passions are still running high in the Aksy region, but the general situation has started to stabilise."
Akayev, a soft-spoken 57-year-old physicist, may still enjoy vast support from his native north, with its large proportion of Russian speakers, but his popularity wanes noticeably in the arid south, separated by both mountains and culture.
Reuters correspondents who travelled to southern Kyrgyzstan last weekend after the opposition lifted a blockade on the only motorway to the north, saw both abject poverty and opposition figures living in hiding from Akayev's government.
Azimbek Beknazarov, a low-profile investigator in a local prosecutor's office and a parliamentary deputy from the south, became a popular hero there after he was arrested in January for alleged abuse of office.
"Will Beknazarov want to lead all of Kyrgyzstan's opposition groups one day?" asked Begimkul Seyitkulov, a farmer and Beknazarov aide. "He openly speaks of poverty and demands a better life."
After his approval as prime minister, Tanayev pledged on Friday to "work, work and work" to improve the precarious social and economic situation by the end of the year.
But it appears the opposition is not prepared to wait.
Opposition deputy Bektur Asanov told Reuters on Friday up to 3,000 people were holding an unauthorised rally in Dzhalal Abad, a major town in the south, protesting against hardship and demanding the punishment of those guilty of the March bloodshed. Officials did not confirm this.
"People want to see concrete actions (by the authorities), but we can't find a common language with the president," he said. "Will we cooperate with the new government? It's unlikely -- hope has abandoned us."
"There may be big problems there. Even we can no longer vouch for full control of the local population. People just get too aggressive," Asanov said.
Reuters, May 31, 2002

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