- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN (AP) - Opposition parties on Monday called for protests across Kyrgyzstan this month, amid worsening economic conditions and mounting accusations of government repression.

Widespread anger, driven by the souring economy, is increasingly being directed at President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s government. The poor, Central Asian nation has also been at center of a tug-of-war between Russia and the United States over an air base key to U.S. operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Six opposition parties called for a March 27 protest in the capital, Bishkek.

Authorities have authorized the rally, though Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiyev warned that police would tolerate no violence or illegal activity _ a frequent occurrence at recent opposition rallies.

“At the slightest breach of the law, the police will take every measure to restore law and order and the security of our citizens,” Kongantiyev said.

Mass protests in 2005 led to the overthrow of longtime President Askar Akayev in March 2005, after which Bakiyev was elected. But Kyrgyzstan has since suffered deteriorating public security, budget deficits and political instability.

Last week, government critic Alikbek Jekshenkulov was arrested for alleged involvement in a 2007 murder _ a charge his supporters say is politically motivated.

Opposition politicians also said ex-presidential chief of staff Medet Sadyrkulov was killed in a car collision Friday, claiming he was assassinated in an effort to intimidate anti-government activists.

The Interior Ministry has said three people were killed when a car loaned to Sadyrkulov was severely damaged and caught fire in a collision with another car outside Bishkek. Sadyrkulov’s allies said he was no doubt among the three bodies found, a claim officials have yet to confirm.

“(We) believe the guilt for (the collision) lies entirely with the Bakiyev clan that rules in Kyrgyzstan, and that the country is rapidly descending into an abyss of crime and corruption,” the United People’s Movement opposition umbrella group said.

Bakiyev issued a statement Monday that appeared to reflect the political tension, suggesting the opposition was trying to capitalize on the crash. “You cannot play on people’s feelings and grief, and play politics in a tragedy,” said Bakiyev’s statement, posted on his Web site.

Kyrgyzstan _ and other former Soviet republics in Central Asia _ have been the focus of an influence struggle between Russia, the U.S. and China.

U.S. forces have used an air base outside Bishkek to support U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan since 2001, but Bakiyev said last month they would be evicted. U.S. officials have said Russia was behind the eviction.

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