Uzbekistan courts foreign investment
Hizbullah, Jabhat al-Nusra distorting Syrian uprising, analysts say
Pakistani women's political participation increased
Tajikstan works to prevent terrorism
Demonstration rocks Kyrgyz town of Talas
Troops reportedly retake regional government building
By Aibek Karabayev and Didar Dyusenkbek
TALAS, Kyrgyzstan -- Special Forces troops reportedly retook the Talas regional government centre Tuesday night, ending a nearly day-long occupation of the building by opposition demonstrators who took the governor hostage April 6 and named an alternative governor.
A source inside the Special Forces had said they didn’t want to use commandoes “since news of the demonstration has leaked out”, but added that “everything depends on the situation”.
Witnesses said military aircraft flew in troops who retook the square and building in mere minutes, before demonstrators could even respond with the stones and Molotov cocktails they had prepared.
“A military helicopter is flying back and forth low over the city and you can hear gunshots in the city”, one local resident told Central Asia Online by telephone around 10pm Bishkek time Tuesday. “Also, periodically we can see flashes and hear a rumbling sound, but I can’t confirm that these are explosions. Everyone is sitting at home and not going out”.
Gulbara Imankulova, director of the Talas Media Centre, told Central Asia Online the demonstration began in the morning in front of the government building in Talas.
In an evening TV broadcast, Minister of Interior Moldomus Kongantiyev said the central square of Talas had been cleared of demonstrators and the governor had been freed. Kongantiyev said opposition leader Bolot Sherniyazov gave vodka to the demonstrators so they could prepare Molotov cocktails. “They … took hostage the governor’s building and the governor himself”.
Shamil Murat, of the For Democracy and Civil Society organisation, said before the troops’ arrival that more than 2,000 demonstrators had massed around the government building. He said the Molotov cocktails were to be used “in case Special Forces commandoes try to disperse them”.
Unrest reportedly erupted after police detained opposition members who were planning to lead an April 7 opposition kurultai, or town meeting, including Sherniyazov, a former parliamentary deputy and opposition member.
Police eventually released him, but by then “discontent had boiled over”, according to Ata-Meken Party chief Omurbek Tekebayev, who also called the action an “effort by the masses to approach” the oblast governor rather than a “seizure of power”.
One of Central Asia Online’s Bishkek correspondents said Kyrgyz internet providers — including the nation’s most popular online forum diesel.elcat.kg — were being periodically blocked and the mobile phone system was barely operating. Authorities warned journalists “not to report” on the situation, the correspondent said.
Citizens of Talas have been demanding basic freedoms they say they have lost, according to Central Asia Online’s correspondent in Bishkek. Agriculture Minister Iskander Aidaraliyev, a former governor of the oblast, was reportedly already in Talas to try to defuse the situation before the demonstration.
The demonstrators were gathering to express dissatisfaction with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s rule, a January 1 increase in utility rates and alleged violations of civil liberties. Retirees have complained that they had not received a promised monthly pension increase of 200 KGS (US $4.42).
At the planned April 7 kurultai, the opposition intended to demand a reduction in utility rates and more respect for civil liberties. According to Imankulova, all schools, government offices and organisations had warned their employees that they would be closed that day.
Kyrgyz government officials painted a very different picture of events, claiming a drunken mob had tried to seize the government building, and denying reports that the governor had been taken hostage. The governor confirmed that he was being held by the demonstrators in a telephone call to Reuters.
A statement later by Kyrgyz General Prosecutor Nurlan Tursunkulov said that “destructively inclined individuals (around 500 people) under the direct leadership of Deputy Ata-Meken Chairman B. Sherniyazov attempted to seize government buildings in Talas and to elect alternative organs of government for the oblast”.
The demonstrators, Tursunkulov said, used force “against representatives of government organs and law-enforcement officers. ... Police used special measures, including firing tear gas, to restore normality. At this time law enforcement is in full control of the situation in the city of Talas and the Talas Oblast”.
Prosecutors reportedly plan to charge protest organisers and participants under Article 297 of the criminal code, which prohibits violent efforts to overthrow the government.
The Interior Ministry gave its own timetable and account of the Talas events, which put the start of the protest at 1.20pm and its end at 4.25pm. About 500 demonstrators surrounded the oblast government building and demanded that the leaders come out, the ministry said. Bolotbekov tried to calm them, but they reportedly threw rocks at the building and stormed it. The demonstrators, in that account, also tried twice to take over the police station.
Sources throughout the day put the number of protesters anywhere from 700 to 3,000. Photographs showed a relatively small crowd during the day, but it apparently grew in the evening.
Demonstrators plan to continue their protest Wednesday.
A repetition of this situation is possible in Naryn where leading citizens are negotiating for change, said activist Azimbek Beknazarov, who is in Naryn.
He said they want government officials to peacefully hand over power.
The citizens of Naryn “are negotiating to have the police come over to their side ... but there has been no reply yet from the authorities”, he said.
An unverified report of further unrest, posted on the Ata-Meken Party’s website, said unknown individuals sprayed graffiti on one of Bakiyev’s residences outside Bishkek: “Bakiyev is a thief! Get out of Kyrgyzstan!”