Thursday, March 24, 2005

It Reaches Kyrgyzstan!

Have you learned how to spell "Kyrgyzstan" yet? Admit it: you haven't even been trying. Well, now's a good time to start. It looks like the "Tulip Revolution" (first mentioned in TIA Daily as an aside on March 3, then again on March 8) has succeeded after all, with President Akayev fleeing the country, protesters seizing control of the seat of government, opposition politicians being sprung from jail, and the prime minister joining the opposition.

What to make of all of this? Many former Soviet republics have been trying to follow Russian President Vladimir Putin's model of "Stalin lite." Leaders have used control of the press and rigged elections (according to US and European monitors) to keep themselves in office. But this is Stalin "lite," so they haven't been willing to use force to impose an outright dictatorship—and so their bids for power are failing.

Note also that while Kyrgyzstan may seem isolated, it is scrunched between three strategically important regions: Russia, the Middle East (just north of Afghanistan), and, most interesting, China. The Daily Telegraph has a fascinating photo slideshow of the protests; you get to it by clicking the link at the top of the story. Who knows what impact these images might have in, say, China?

"Leader of Kyrgyzstan Flees After Protesters Seize Seat of Power," Christopher Pala, New York Times, 3/24/05

"President Askar Akayev and his family fled the Kyrgyz capital today after protesters stormed the presidential compound and seized control following clashes with riot policemen during a large opposition rally.... In a two-hour telephone conversation with Mr. Akayev's daughter, Bermet, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev told this reporter that he had tried to persuade the president to sign a letter of resignation so that there would be an orderly transfer of power. Mr. Tanayev said the message he had asked the daughter to pass on to Mr. Akayev was, 'If you leave the country without signing, you won't be able to come back.'... After the compound was taken over, an opposition leader, former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, vowed to held new elections. 'We will establish order,' Mr. Bakiev said. 'We will not allow looting. We will hold our own elections to start our rule.'... Another leading opposition figure, Felix Kulov, was freed from prison and said on state television: 'It is a revolution made by the people. Tomorrow will come, and we must decide how to live tomorrow.' A former vice president, interior minister, and mayor of Bishkek, Mr. Kulov was arrested after announcing his candidacy to oppose Mr. Akayev in the 2000 presidential election. The opposition said it had taken over the state television, which has not been reporting any news of widespread protests over elections in the former Soviet republic this month that were widely condemned as fraudulent.... At the initial rally, Interior Minister Keneshbek Dushebayev addressed the demonstrators and urged them to obey laws. However, in a departure from his warnings of a day before of a possible crackdown that could include 'special means and firearms,' he vowed today that no force would be used against peaceful protesters. 'I promise here that force will not be used against the people,' he said."