Revolution proves contagious in former Soviet republics

Analysis:

The article, at least the Grand Rapids Press version of it, is about just Kyrgyzstan, despite the headline which refers to multiple “former Soviet Republics”. The article is framed by the headline to put this particular event within a context of a pattern, that is, of former Soviet Republics that have had popular uprisings. While this could vary well be a reasonable and accurate frame for this story, no where is this pattern of uprisings in former Soviet republics actually mentioned in the GR Press version of the article. This is an example of, whether correctly or not, the GR Press editors adding context to a story pulled from the wire that was not not actually in the article.

While the article does describe the recent events in Kyrgyzstan, but it does not provide much context, particularly as to the United States relationship with this breakaway former Soviet republic. One thing omitted in the GR Press version of the article is the fact that, along with several other former Soviet states in central Asia, the U.S. has a sizable military base in Kyrgyzstan. This base, located at the international airport in the city of Bishkek, houses about 1500 U.S. service men and provides logistical support for operations in Afghanistan. Also not mentioned in the article is the fact that several U.S. funded NGO’s, non governmental organizations, have been active in Kyrgyzstan, giving varying degrees of support to the opposition in that country. The activities of these various organizations, such as the International Republican Institute, Freedom house, the Soros Family Foundation, and the National Endowment for Democracy, were, reported in an article from the Wall Street Journal. This was the only mainstream news source, as far as we here at GRIID could tell, that reported on the role of these U.S. funded NGO’s in shaping the current events in Kyrgyzstan.

Story:

03/25/0503/25/05

By Bagila Bukharbayeva

Associated Press

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The president was in hiding, maybe in another country, looters were ransacking the capital and suddenly opposition activist Ulan Shambetov found himself in the presidential headquarters, sitting in the vanished leader’s chair.

In the nearby Kyrgyz parliament, its members both stunned and excited, lawmakers gathered and sought to restore anything resembling order in their reeling Central Asian country where the government collapsed Thursday after days of protests over allegedly fraudulent elections.

The popular uprising was breathtaking in its speed and resulted in only a few dozen injured. The government was the third in a former Soviet republic — after Georgia and Ukraine — to be brought down by people power over the past year and a half.

“It’s not the opposition that has seized power; it’s the people who have taken power,” Shambetov said after he got up from the chair so other demonstrators could have a turn. “They have been fighting for so long against corruption, against that family.”

He was referring to the family of President Askar Akayev, whose whereabouts were not known. U.S. officials said they could not confirm reports by the opposition and Russian news agencies that he had left the country.

Akayev, a 60-year-old former physicist, had led Kyrgyzstan since 1990, before it gained independence in the Soviet collapse.

At his headquarters, whooping and whistling protesters threw computers and air conditioners out of windows. Outside, people tore up portraits of Akayev and stomped on them.

“It’s the victory of the people. But now we don’t know how to stop these young guys,” said Noman Akabayev, an unsuccessful legislative candidate.

Text from the original article ommitted from the Grand Rapids Press version:

The upper house of the parliament that held power before a disputed election elected a former opposition lawmaker, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, as interim president until a new presidential vote, perhaps as early as May or June.

Two prominent opposition leaders, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Felix Kulov, were named to top posts in an interim government, lawmakers said. The lower House of parliament early today appointed Bakiyev acting prime minister, and the upper House tapped Kulov, who was released from prison Thursday, to take charge of all law enforcement agencies.

One immediate challenge for the new rulers was the looting in government buildings and shops in Bishkek.

The takeover of government buildings and state television in Bishkek followed similar seizures by opposition activists in the impoverished southern region, including the nation’s second-largest city, Osh. Those protests began even before the first round of parliamentary elections Feb. 27 and swelled after March 13 run-offs that the opposition said were seriously flawed.

Politics in Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 5 million, depends as much on clan ties as on ideology, and the fractious opposition has unified around calls for more democracy, an end to poverty and corruption, and a desire to oust Akayev.

There was no sign the new leadership would change policy toward the West or Russia. Unlike the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, foreign policy has not been an issue.

Both the United States and Russia have military bases near Bishkek. About 1,000 U.S. troops are stationed at Manas air base outside the capital. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday he didn’t believe they would be adversely affected by the turmoil.

Kyrgyzstan’s role as a conduit for drugs and a potential hotbed of Islamic extremism, particularly in the south, makes it volatile. There is no indication, however, that the opposition would be more amenable to Islamic fundamentalist influence than Akayev’s government has been.

“The future of Kyrgyzstan should be decided by the people of Kyrgyzstan, consistent with the principles of peaceful change, of dialogue and respect for the rule of law,” U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Neighboring regimes in Central Asia studiously ignored Thursday’s uprising but their opposition parties were jubilant, hoping the seeds of democratic change had been sown in the region. After the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine last year, authorities have been increasingly nervous about their grip on power.

The takeover in Kyrgyzstan began with a rally Thursday morning on the outskirts of Bishkek, where about 5,000 protesters roared and clapped when Bakiyev said they soon would control the entire country.

Interior Minister Keneshbek Dushebayev urged demonstrators to obey the law, but he said no force would be used against peaceful protesters.

About 1,000 people surged toward the building housing Akayev’s offices, meeting little resistance from helmeted riot police standing next to a protective fence with truncheons and shields. About half the crowd entered through the front. Others smashed windows with stones.

Some demonstrators were injured during a clash with a group of truncheon-wielding men in civilian clothes and blue armbands — the color of Akayev’s party. One protester had a serious head injury and a broken leg, and another had broken ribs, said Iskander Shamshiyev, leader of the opposition Youth Movement of Kyrgyzstan.

Vincent Lusser, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva, said its staff saw “a few dozen wounded” in Bishkek hospitals — most with injuries from falls or fist-fights.

Hundreds of police watched from outside the fence, where thousands more protesters remained. Neither side visibly carried firearms.

Officials left through a side door, protected by Interior Ministry troops. Some camouflage-clad troops also left peacefully.

Many demonstrators wore pink or yellow headbands signifying their loyalty to the opposition — reminiscent of the orange worn by protesters who helped elect a pro-Western president in Ukraine and the rose hues worn in the Georgian revolution.

At one point, a protester charged through the square on horseback, a yellow opposition flag waving, and protesters chanted, “Akayev, go!”

Dozens of youths rampaged inside the building, some smashing furniture and looting supplies, ignoring protest organizers who urged them to stop. Broken glass littered the floors and a drugstore in the building was ransacked.

Several hours after the takeover, thick plumes of black smoke rose from two burning cars nearby.

After nightfall, thousands milled peacefully in Ala-Too Square outside the presidential headquarters, occasionally breaking into cheers. A large store on a main street was looted, with mostly young men carting out crates of food, juice and cookies, as well as mattresses, mirrors and coat hangers.

“You have to understand, people are living in poverty,” Kulov said.

Kulov’s release from prison could be a key element in unifying the opposition, which until now has lacked a single clear leader.

He had been serving 10 years for embezzlement and abuse of power — charges he says were fabricated by the Akayev regime. A former vice president, interior minister and mayor of Bishkek, Kulov was arrested after announcing his candidacy for president in 2000.

“It is a revolution made by the people,” Kulov said on state television, adding, “Tomorrow will come, and we must decide how to live tomorrow.”

Akayev was long regarded as a reform-minded leader, but in recent years he turned more authoritarian. In 2002, his reputation was tarnished after police killed six demonstrators protesting the arrest of an opposition lawmaker.

“I am very happy because for 15 years we’ve been seeing the same ugly face that has been shamelessly smiling at us,” said Abdikasim Kamalov, holding a red Kyrgyz flag outside the presidential building. “We could no longer tolerate this. We want changes.”

On Thursday night, thousands stayed on the main square outside the presidential headquarters. An elderly man and woman in a clearing in the crowd danced to imaginary music as a man pretended to beat drums.

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org