Three days after the collapse of Kurmanbek Bakiyev's administration, Kyrgyzstan's new leadership is treading delicately as it strives to coax the nominal president into resigning. Provisional government representatives in southern Kyrgyzstan say they don't know Bakiyev's exact whereabouts, and add that some of his most zealous supporters have access to arms.
Managing the end-game for Bakiyev is shaping up as a major test for the provisional government in Bishkek, led by Roza Otunbayeva. It has offered Bakiyev a security guarantee if he voluntarily goes into exile. Arrest warrants have been issued for several of his relatives, while Bakiyev himself still legally enjoys presidential immunity. Bakiyev, who is in hiding in southern Kyrgyzstan, his home region, has given no indication that he will go quietly.
There is a significant possibility that a misstep by the provisional government could prompt fresh political violence. Newly installed provisional government representatives in the Jalal-abad Region now find themselves struggling to assert their authority as they contend with Bakiyev, who remains at large and ready to undermine their efforts, and who is backed by loyalists who are perhaps ready to take up arms.
"I think there are dark forces and the situation could go out of control," Bektur Asanov, an unofficial adviser to acting governor Asan Shakirov, told reporters on April 10.
It was difficult to take Asanov's warning at face value, given the sense of calm on the leafy streets of Jalal-abad, which is situated in the Ferghana Valley not far from the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. But the aide insisted that appearances were deceptive. A new bout of political violence remained a possibility, he cautioned.
"The situation in the Jalal-Abad Region seems stable, but in fact the situation is very complicated," Asanov told a news briefing at the regional administration building. "The former president's supporters are in the Jalal-Abad [Region] -- around 500 of them according to our information."
Asanov said Bakiyev's supporters had access to weapons, adding that they were adamantly opposed to the prospect of the nominal president's resignation. The provisional government's immediate task is preventing a violent outburst as it tries to convince these zealots that their cause is lost.
Asanov said he had met one of Bakiyev's brothers on April 9 to urge the nominal president's supporters to accept the demise of the old administration. Asanov indicated that Bakiyev supporters were clinging to the idea that the nominal president retained "80 percent support" of the local population. "Their attempts over the last two or three days to gather people [in support] have not been crowned with success, and I think they will soon understand that," he added.
Bakiyev gave interviews to several international media outlets on April 9, but then went back into hiding. He was believed to have moved to a different location on April 10. Provisional government representatives professed not to know Bakiyev's precise location. "The president and his brother were here yesterday," Asanov said. "Today, we do not know where they are. They are moving around."
EurasiaNet.org's attempts to reach Bakiyev for interview on April 9 were unsuccessful, and on April 10 a representative of Bakiyev's in Bishkek said in a text message that Bakiyev was "not available."
The Bakiyev representative added that the nominal president was still in Jalal-abad, but in a reticent mood. "He needs silence," the representative, who spoke to EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity, said.
Jalal-Abad was due to hold a kurultai, or a traditional public gathering, to discuss the region's political future on April 10, but provisional government representatives cancelled it due to fears that it could turn violent. Rumors swept the regional center early April 10 that Bakiyev himself might turn up with his supporters and try to address the gathering.
Ultimately, the kurultai was transformed into a mourning ceremony for those who died in the April 6-7 political violence that led to the Bakiyev administration's collapse. Mullahs read prayers for the dead to a crowd of roughly 250, including bearded elders in traditional pointed ak kalpaks (white hats), young men in baseball caps and women in headscarves. "All the people of Jalal-Abad are grieving for those who died for the freedom of the Kyrgyz Republic," a 22-year-old man who gave his name as Bektur told EurasiaNet.org after the ceremony.
Shortly after the mourning ceremony, Asanov left his office to address the assembled throng at the town square. His chief aim was to bolster popular trust in the provisional government. "We do not want chaos! We do not want provocations! We do not want a division of the north and south of the country!" he said.
A sampling of opinion among those attending the mourning ceremony revealed little backing for Bakiyev. "The idea that everyone supports Bakiyev in Jalal-Abad is absolutely wrong," said Bektur. "Everyone wants him to leave. ... He came to power and made promises. He did not keep any of them but one: he promised to protect power by any means and he kept that promise -- he shot his own people."
"We voted for him [Bakiyev] ... so that there would be a decent state of affairs. ... We thought it would be different, but you see how it is," added a middle aged man.
Several women spoke out in favor of Bakiyev, however, heckling Asanov as he asked the crowd to back the new order. Others present suggested the women had been paid to voice support for the ousted president.
Political instability seems to be stoking worries about possible inter-ethnic violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and the ethnic Uzbeks who comprise about a quarter of the region's population. Uzbeks say privately they fear that if unrest breaks out in Jalal-abad, they could be targeted.
Acknowledging that rumors of ethnic violence are circulating, Asanov called on the people of the region to pull together and move on: "We are citizens of Kyrgyzstan - Kyrgyz Uzbeks, Russians and others -- and we have got to trust each other."
Some local residents are already looking past the present uncertainty toward the future. Zhanalay (who declined to give her last name) led a group of woman to the regional administration building on April 10 to submit a petition to the new leadership. It called on officials to take women's interests into account. Zhanalay said she is already pondering the upcoming presidential election, adding that a generational shift away from the same old faces that have dominated Kyrgyz politics for the past five years is needed.
"We want a new person to rule, a young person, under 50, whose heart aches for the Kyrgyz people, preferably a believer who fears only God," she said.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.