- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Pent-up popular resentment and a string of tactical mistakes by the government produced the stunning political upheaval in this poor Central Asian nation, culminating in former President Askar Akayev’s formal resignation earlier this week.

Kyrgyzstan, which has both Russian and U.S. military bases on its soil, became the third ex-Soviet republic in less than three years to throw out an entrenched strongman, following the pattern set by Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

Accounts by participants inside and outside Mr. Akayev’s Bishkek “White House” reveal how resentment over fraudulent elections, a series of unpopular government policies and tactical mistakes drew out, from a crowd of thousands intent on a sit-in, a few dozen stone-throwing youths who sent the president fleeing March 24 as demoralized officers ordered their soldiers not to shoot.

The troubles of Mr. Akayev, once hailed as one of the most progressive leaders in Central Asia, continued yesterday. The Kyrgyz parliament voted to strip the legal immunity for Mr. Akayev, now in exile in Moscow, and his family — a sign of still-smoldering anger at the corruption of his final days in office.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) warned yesterday that the situation in the country remained unstable two weeks after Mr. Akayev’s flight.

“The situation in the republic is delicate and unstable,” said Alojz Peterle, the OSCE chief in Bishkek.

A failure to buy crowd-control equipment; an underpaid police that sympathizes with the impoverished population, and a decision to send thugs to attack the demonstrators all played roles in the fall of the Akayev regime, participants on both sides say.

After nonviolent crowds seized a half-dozen key government buildings in the region south of the capital, putting them under the control of an opposition anxious to avoid violence, the next obvious target was the “White House,” formerly the Communist Party headquarters, workplace of the president, the prime minister and their staffs.

Past opposition demonstrations in the capital had been small and easily dispersed.

But the “White House” grounds were protected by the national guard, whose raw young conscripts would be likelier to shoot than policemen, whose support for Mr. Akayev was known to be lukewarm, said Bolot Maripov, an opposition leader.

Mr. Maripov, who lost to Mr. Akayev’s daughter Bermet in March 13 parliamentary elections, took seriously government threats that demonstrators who came too close to the “White House” would be met with bullets.

Another leader, Abasbek Kurmanaliyev, said the opposition had been preparing its demonstration for days, gathering several yurts — the traditional felt tents of the once-nomadic Kyrgyz — for a stay that he expected would be “at least several days.”

“We were here to demand Akayev’s resignation, and we were prepared to wait for months,” he said. “We were absolutely not prepared for what happened.”

A first march, led by Jenishbek Nazaraliyev, a physician who runs a high-profile drug treatment clinic, first passed peacefully in front of the “White House,” guarded by riot policemen, participants said.

After that, about 200 or so burly men wearing white baseball caps and blue armbands — the colors of the president’s party — began attacking the crowd, which retreated at first. But a far larger crowd turned on their attackers and sent the attackers fleeing.

“The government wanted the police to be blameless, so they sent thugs to disperse the crowd,” said Balbak Tulobayev, a presidential aide. “It was only then that the crowds went after the riot police,” eventually forcing them to run off, he said.

A policeman who asked not to be identified said his salary of $15 a month did not motivate him to attack people whose underlying grievance — beyond the recent rigged parliamentary elections — was anger at the country’s deepening poverty while the Akayev family grew richer very publicly.

“They are our people,” he said, as a colleague nodded in agreement. “Why should we beat them?”

During a lull, about 30 whip-wielding mounted police clattered into the square and scattered the crowd. But after some stone-throwing, the tide turned and the horsemen fled. One was pulled off his mount and ran off, and a youth waving a stick with a yellow flag and a yellow headband climbed on the horse, towering over the cheering crowd.

“When I saw him, I was so moved that I had goose pimples,” Mr. Tulobayev, the “White House” aide, said. “This was the symbol of the Kyrgyz revolution — before the Russians came 80 years ago and made us live in houses, we rode horses and did whatever we wanted, and we had real democracy.”

Gen. Abdygul Chotpayev said in a telephone interview from his home four days after the takeover that he told his troops to store their weapons in the armory in the cellar. “I realized that if we began to fire, the crowd would run away but the next moment they would attack us again,” he said.

Gen. Chotpayev led most of his troops — about 200 — back outside, wearing helmets and green fatigues but without weapons. After a half-hour, occasional stones hurled against them turned into a hailstorm, and the national guardsmen retreated around the corner.

But when they got to the street, waiting demonstrators severely beat up Gen. Chotpayev. “I have two ribs broken and cerebral contusion, bruises and scratches, but at least I know I did the right thing,” the general said.

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