Another Stand-off Begins in Bishkek: “Maydan” #3?
Picture of the sign hanging on the White House gates courtesy of Edil Baisalov’s blog
Yesterday in Bishkek, the latest series of prolonged protests began in the city’s main square. On the surface, it would seem that these protests differ little from those from last November. Groups have arrived from various regions in the country, and yurts have been set up on the main square to house people for the long term. But, this time the actors have changed, at least to some degree, and the stakes appear to have risen.
One of the leaders of the November protests, Almazbek Atambayev, is now the Prime Minister and is defending what he characterizes as Bakiyev’s new reform path, and Felix Kulov, who had defended the government as Prime Minister in November, is now leading the protests. One actor who has not changed, of course, is Kurmanbek Bakiyev. He is still president, and he is still seeking ways to diffuse dissent by making concessions and conducting back-door negotiations. Only a day before protests began, for example, Bakiyev had already introduced new constitutional amendments that reportedly scaled back his power and empowered the parliament. As a result, he is once again trying to take the moral high ground early in his struggle with opposition street protests.
After the first day of protests, the situation in the city appears to be calm, but reports suggest that significant anxiety about the upcoming days exists. Bakiyev has ominously suggested that any attempts at a coup will be met with “strict measures.” Meanwhile, snipers reportedly are poised on the roof of the white house in Bishkek, and the gate leading to the white house is adorned with a sign reading: “Protected Zone!: in the event of unsanctioned entry, arms will be employed.” At the same time, the opposition is warning that supporters of Bakiyev will already be setting up provocations during the first night of the protests, including the looting of stores, and there are rumors about scores of Bakiyev supporters traveling to Bishkek to establish “counter-protests.”
The future of Kyrgyzstan may once again hang in the balance over the next several days of protests. While past protests have always evaded violence, during those protests Bakiyev and Kulov were always on the same side. This time, they are directly facing off. And while Bakiyev has control of the state, Kulov may still have very good connections with law enforcement.
Luckily, there should not be a black out of information since Akipress has already set up a blog version of their news site to ensure that information gets out about the latest happenings in Bishkek.