Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kyrgyz “Maydan,” the Sequel (Part 8): Showdown of Protesters in Bishkek?

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A wall of police holds back opposition protesters from pro-Bakiyev protesters near parliament building (courtesy of KyrgyzReport)

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An ominous show of force in front of the American University of Central Asia (courtesy of KyrgyzReport)

As the political standstill continues in Bishkek, the stakes have been raised by dueling protests and the first signs of violence. Tuesday began with the opposition claiming that it had legally adopted a new constitution by securing 39 votes. As had been promised yesterday, this news was met with the actions of a new group of protesters in front of parliament claiming to support Bakiyev and asking for the resignation of opposition deputies. The tensest part of the day involved a standoff between opposition and pro-Bakiyev protesters in front of the parliament that ended in the police, led by SNB chief Sultalinov, using tear gas and force to disperse protesters and push the opposition protesters back to Alatoo square.

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Wall of police in front of parliament (courtesy of KyrgyzReport)

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Tear gas being used to disperse protesters (courtesy of KyrgyzReport)

The most disconcerting news, however, relates to what might happen tonight and tomorrow. After the conflict in front of parliament, Sultalinov announced that all protesters will be cleared from Alatoo square this evening. Opposition protesters have also warned that further provocations from security agencies are likely tonight, suggesting that the government is planning to organize looting of local businesses as was done in March 2005. Whatever happens tonight, tomorrow is likely to be even tenser. Supporters of Bakiyev have already promised to bring in several thousand protesters from the south to join those already in front of the parliament in Bishkek. Most businesses in Bishkek are closing, and many are removing items from stores in the event that the situation spins out of control further. One can only hope that this does not become a “pay-for-protester” proxy war between the government and opposition or even worse an emergent civil conflict between north and south. The most reasonable voices in the evolving conflict appear to come from the more moderate deputies, led by speaker Marat Sultanov. This group claims to have the support of 30 deputies who are ready to adopt a compromise constitution that can lead the country out of the conflict between government and opposition.

Additional Note: I almost forgot to mention that NTS television, which has been sympathetic to the opposition cause has apparently been struggling all day with its access to electricity and its signal. For those who remember the events in February that led to the March 2005 fall of Akayev, this sounds like alot like what happened to the printing press before the election. Deja Vu?

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