By Umer Sultan
Kyrgyzstan- a Central Asian country and an ally of the United States faced a public uprising yesterday on April 7th, 2010. People gathered and stormed Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. They were welcomed by the riot control forces and with live bullets from the snipers stationed at the presidential office. Today the opposition was able to take control of the media and the parliament and thus establishing an interim government. By the end of this second Tulip Revolution, the Interior Minister was beaten to death, the President went into hiding while more than 60 people died and over 400 were wounded.
I started following this news last night and came across interesting things in terms of how the international players are playing their role in this public uprising. You will be able to see that scattered through out the article. This is Part 1 about What just Happened? Part 2 will cover the New beginning in Kyrgyzstan and the International community.
Kyrgyzstan is in Central Asia, borders with Kazakhstan to the North, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. Kyrgyzstan is rich in natural resources- such as, Gold and Coal- is an ally of the United States. Independence from the Soviet Union was declared on August 31, 1991 by Askar Akayev, got full independence on 25th December 1991, a day before the Soviet Union collapsed.
Kyrgyzstan has a US base just miles from the capital city center in Kyrgyzstan where the revolution is taking place. The base is critical to U.S. operations in Afghanistan according to Kathleen Collins, an expert on Central Asian clan politics at the University of Mineasota.
The First Tulip Revolution:
The first Tulip Revolution took place in 2005, yes 5 years ago. The opposition and the public was tired of the mishandling of the government, of the inflation, of the lack of the representation of the people in their government. People came out on the streets protesting about the rigged elections. The then President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan was ousted and the opposition took over by establishing an interim government. The new government was formed under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov.
Post 2005 Tulip Revolution:
The new government formed by Bakiyev and Kulov had high hopes and support of the people. However, President Bakiyev started to act in the same way as the ousted Askar Akayev when he won the elections in 2007.
Al Jazeera English reported on September 28, 2008:
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the new president, has put his family in charge of the country pretty much as the previous did – corruption and violence are thriving.
In August, the International Crisis Group published a report calling Kyrgyzstan a “one-party state“, warning that the calm could soon be shattered. Al Jazeera English
The conflict between the parliament and the government of Bakiyev and the issue of the constitutional reforms, lingered through out these years until the 2010 Tulip Revolution. While the issues of the people were widely ignored. Dilip Hiro wrote at the Guardian UK on April 8th, 2010 about his landslide victory in 2007 elections :
Despite his enhanced powers, Bakiyev failed to tackle the rise of the black economy, persistent corruption, and the general weakness of the economy. It was estimated that as much as 52% of the Kyrgyz economy was black or related to smuggling. Guardian.co.uk
Pre-2010 Tulip Revolution:
US Mana Air Base
He called for the closure of the US military’s Manas Air Base near Bishkek, the capital of Krygyzstan, in 2009. Manas Air Base is a very crucial US base because it provides supplies to the US forces including additional troops in Afghanistan.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri said: “It [the base] is highly important to US forces’ plans to double troop numbers in Afghanistan and key to seeking alternative supply routes that bypass Pakistan, where there is significant security risk.
Bakiyev decided the air base should close because Washington had refused to pay more rent for it and he received $2 Billion from the Russia. Although, Russia and Kyrgyzstan both said that the closure of the air base was not a condition of the aid.
In June 2009, the decision was taken back when the new deal was signed as reported:
Kadyrbek Sarbayev, the Kyrgyz foreign minister, said rent under the new deal will increase to $60m a year from the current $17.4m. Al Jazeera English [June 24, 2009]
Fraud in Elections of 2009:
In the July 2009 election, The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), described the vote as a “disappointment” and said it had failed to meet key international standards. The opposition charged the then President Bakiyev for election fraud and corruption furthering the momentum of public opposition.
The protesters and opposition leaders were arrested, furthering the opposition to the Bakiyev’s government.
On April 1st, 2010, the Bishkek-based online video portal Stan Media and the newspaper of the opposition were shutdown [AP]. When the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid his first visit on April 3rd, to the Central Asian region and in Kyrgyzstan, the protesters took streets shouting “help us”
“There is no media freedom in this country. There is no alternative information. Dissent is being suppressed” said Asiya Sasykbayeva, an activist at the rally. [Rueters April 3rd 2010]
After five years of the First Tulip Revolution, the people got tired of very high inflation, sky rocketing energy prices, Human Rights violations, lack of freedom and the failure of the government to address and ease the burden on the masses, the people took to the streets on Tuesday, April 6th 2010.
The Second Tulip Revolution:
On April 6th, 2010, the crowd clashed with the police during the protest rally called by the opposition coalition- United People’s Movement. The protesters took over the government building in the town of Talas and made the officials hostages but the police rescue operation got hold of the hostages [Al Jazeera English April 6th 2010.]
The police operation and the clashes with the protesters in the North, sparked the protests further. On Wednesday the April 7th, then Prime Minister declared the state of emergency in Kyrgyzstan. The protesters had gathered from different towns and have entered the capital demanding the resignation of the Bakiyev.
Dmitri Kabak, director of a local human rights group in Bishkek, said in a telephone interview:
“When people started marching toward the presidential office, snipers on the roof of the office started to open fire, with live bullets,” Mr. Kabak said. “I saw several people who were killed right there on the square.” [NY Times, April 7th 2010]
The Interim Government & Ms. Clean:
The President had left the capital before it could be stormed by the crowd. In Talas, the Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev was killed during the early phase of the protests [Telegraph and France 24 reported on April 7th 2010].
On Thursday, April 8th 2010, a new interim government was established and “Ms. Clean” Rosa Otunbaeva, a former Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan was elected as the caretaker of the government for six months until the new elections. Bakiyev rejected the interim government, and refused to resign. It is being said that he is gathering support in the South (his hometown). Will he bring the Pro-Bakiyev crowd from the South, that is yet to be seen…
[END of Part 1]
Part 2 will be coming soon, inshallah, about the Kyrgyzstan and the new chapter!