- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002


The International Crisis Group, a private, multinational organization based in Brussels, has staff members on five continents working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and contain conflict. Its projects and methods can be viewed on the Internet at www.intl-crisis-group.org.

In a recent statement, ICG's Asia program director, Robert Templer, noted that Kyrgyzstan's government has been astounded at the scale of this year's popular discontent in the country.

“But the ruling elite has lost touch with the majority of the population, and the increasingly autocratic behavior of President Askar Akayev is fueling unrest,” he said. “Long-term stability remains under threat unless underlying political and economic problems are resolved. Many people were also emboldened by these events, and demonstrations will likely be renewed.”

Following are excerpts, with minor changes, of the ICG's analysis from a recent press release:

“Kyrgyzstan is entering a period of political uncertainty. President Akayev's term comes to an end in 2005, and he has stated that he will not contest the election. But he has no obvious successor, and there is an increasing concentration of power around him, his family and close colleagues.

“International attention was [previously] rarely focused on Central Asia, but since September 2001 the region has suddenly registered on policy-makers' agendas. Nearly 2,000 U.S. and Coalition troops are now located at Manas Airport near Bishkek, as part of the forces active in Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan is playing a key strategic role in the region. Stability in this country is now of fundamental concern to the international community but, since early 2002, it has declined sharply.

“The leadership has taken an increasingly authoritarian line toward the opposition, perhaps believing that the U.S. presence gave it more leeway. A popular deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, was arrested in January 2002, and several opposition newspapers were closed. His arrest provoked protests in the south of the country, particularly in his home territory of Aksy district, in Jalal-Abad province. In confrontations with protesters in March, police shot dead five demonstrators, the first time political protests had turned violent in Kyrgyzstan.

“After the shootings, thousands of supporters of Mr. Beknazarov protested in the South, demanding the dismissal of charges against him and the punishment of those responsible for the killings. President Askar Akayev dismissed the prime minister and interior minister in late May 2002, leading to the resignation of the whole government. But the protests continued, with demonstrators staging mass marches between southern cities.

“Tensions mounted as their demands became more radical, including a call for Mr. Akayev's resignation, and they threatened to march on Bishkek. It was only when the appeal courts lifted the charges against Mr. Beknazarov that the protesters were finally persuaded to go home.

“This move calmed the situation temporarily, but the anger of the protesters has hardly abated. And it has not solved the underlying political and economic problems in Kyrgyzstan that have given rise to widespread discontent. Long-term stability remains under threat unless a more comprehensive review of policy is undertaken and serious measures introduced to calm the situation.

“Many protesters have been emboldened by their apparent success, and it is likely that demonstrations will be renewed. Even if these grind to a halt, Kyrgyzstan is entering a period of uncertainty, as it approaches the end of Mr. Akayev's term in office in 2005. As the struggle for power gathers pace during this transition period, there is considerable potential for further conflict.”

The ICG overview went on to say that the way Kyrgyzstan's crisis develops depends on five factors, which it examined, and it concluded that the main effort in resolving the crisis must be made by Kyrgyzstan's political forces.

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