- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

Tulip democracy

Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution in March was a genuine democratic uprising, but the small Central Asian country badly needs U.S. and Western support to make further progress, acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva said this week.

Mrs. Otunbayeva, the highest Kyrgyz official to visit Washington since the popular uprising that ousted longtime President Askar Akayev, spoke with our correspondent David R. Sands on Wednesday evening at the end of a packed visit that included meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and congressional and think-tank leaders.

“In the West, we still have to sell our revolution a little bit. People find it hard to believe such an event could take place in a country such as Kyrgyzstan,” she said.

Scattered violence and looting during the tense events that forced Mr. Akayev to flee to Moscow, coupled with a standoff between acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and parliament, raised doubts about whether democracy had bloomed like the country’s famous tulips, the national flower of the Central Asian nation.

“It was perhaps not as beautiful as [Georgia’s] Rose Revolution, or as disciplined and well-organized as [Ukraine’s] Orange Revolution, but I think we have shown it was clear demonstration of the people’s will and unhappiness with oppression,” the foreign minister said.

Mrs. Otunbayeva said she found a high degree of understanding among senior U.S. policy-makers during her visit.

Miss Rice said, after meeting with Mrs. Otunbayeva Tuesday, that the Bush administration hoped to build a “stronger partnership” with Kyrgyzstan, which has opened its Manas airfield near the capital of Bishkek to U.S. forces to support the military mission in Afghanistan.

The new government faces an early test for its democratic credentials with presidential elections set for July 10. Popular anger over tainted parliamentary elections earlier this year fueled the revolt that ousted Mr. Akayev. Mr. Bakiyev is expected to win the vote easily.

Mrs. Otunbayeva said U.S. and Western support remained vital for her country, located in a region still plagued by poverty, drug trafficking and Islamist fundamentalism.

Mr. Akayev had enjoyed a relatively liberal reputation among Central Asian leaders, but Mrs. Otunbayeva said the government had grown increasingly corrupt, authoritarian and intolerant of dissent in his nearly 15 years in power.

“This is now our second chance to proceed on the path to true democracy,” she said. “That is something I think the U.S. government would very much want to support.”

Vets tap Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell this week said he agreed to lead fundraising efforts to build a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center to help Americans understand that the freedoms they “enjoy are bought with a price.”

The $41.5 million underground exhibit center will be located near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as “the Wall,” engraved with the names of more than 58,000 men and women killed or missing in action in the Vietnam War.

“This is an important project of national significance, which will enable our young people to gain a better understanding of the memorial and its impact on our nation’s history,” said Mr. Powell, a retired four-star Army general who served two tours in Vietnam.

“It is fitting that Americans should have such a place to reflect on stories of courage and heroism. When it is completed, I am confident the memorial center will serve as a poignant reminder that the freedoms Americans enjoy are bought with a price.”

The project was approved by Congress in 2003 and will be paid for by private donations.

Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, noted, “Many visitors to the Wall today are younger than the memorial and have little perspective of what the 58,249 names represent. The memorial center will assure their legacy is preserved.”

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