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Kyrgyzstan: Organized Opposition and Civil Unrest

This is the second in a series of reports on opposition movements in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Read more about this series.

Introduction

The government of Kyrgyzstan, once considered Central Asia's most reform-minded, has in recent years taken steady steps in an authoritarian direction. A concurrent rise of opposition to President Askar Akayev's administration combines elements of both traditional political protest and underground activity, punctuated in 2002 by violent confrontation and large-scale protests in the economically depressed and politically marginalized South.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan staked a claim as the most reformist of the Central Asian states. However, Akayev's moves to gain broad control over mass media and the political apparatus in the mid-1990s began to tarnish the country's image as "an island of democracy." The traditional opposition – a bloc of political parties, civil society groups and human rights organizations – has built support by seizing on popular discontent over such issues as economic stagnation and regional and economic exclusion. As Akayev has moved away from democratization, Kyrgyzstan has experienced a rise in Islamic radical activity, most notably the incursions made by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 1999 and 2000.

In 2002, the Kyrgyzstani opposition's rise to prominence accelerated, surging on a wave of public protest over a border treaty in which Kyrgyzstan ceded China nearly 100,000 hectares of territory. Kyrgyzstan finds itself at a crossroads. After the violent clashes in March 2002 between protestors and police, the opposition has intensified pressure on Akayev's government. Some opposition politicians have managed to associate themselves with the broader protest movement, but their ongoing challenge is maintain their position as the standard-bearers for anti-Akayev sentiment, while maintaining an approach that is both politically constructive and democratic. The deepening division between the moderate and hard-line segments of the opposition underscores the difficulty of this task. Some seek accommodation with the government and others claim that the only way to move forward is to bring about Akayev's ouster. The government's decision in late November 2002 to allow Russia to establish an air base on Kyrgyz territory further antagonized Akayev's opponents, who portray the move as a violation of the country's sovereignty.

Background

Kyrgyzstan Since Independence

In the early years of Kyrgyzstani independence, Akayev fostered ties with neighboring nations and launched an ambitious program of free-market reforms, making him a favorite of the international donor community. By the mid-1990s, however, Akayev started to back away from democratization.

On February 10, 1996, a constitutional referendum was approved greatly expanding presidential powers. At the same time, plummeting living standards and steady economic decline continued to mark daily life and resulted in widespread popular discontent. Trouble on the borders echoed the grave domestic situation, as IMU insurgents operated in Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000, facing little resistance from government forces. Akayev secured reelection as president in an October 2000 vote that international observers – including Human Rights Watch, the US Department of State and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – characterized as marked by intimidation and ballot fraud. Feliks Kulov, Akayev's chief political rival and former vice president, was subsequently jailed on abuse of power charges.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Kyrgyzstan built strong security ties with the US-led anti-terrorism coalition, which established an air base at Manas airport near the capital, Bishkek. Increased US-Kyrgyzstani cooperation, together with Akayev's intensifying campaign against independent voices, led to accusations of an informal quid pro quo between the countries, in which the US restrained its criticism of Kyrgyzstan's human rights record in return for military access to Kyrgyzstani facilities.

As Akayev raised his profile abroad, the country's domestic conditions continued to deteriorate. In spring 2002, thousands of people took to the streets in the South to protest the controversial border pact with China and the jailing of opposition parliament member Azimbek Beknazarov. The deaths of six demonstrators in clashes with police in the Ak-Sui region provoked a public outcry and forced Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev's government to resign in May 2002. These most recent events continue to exert significant influence over developments. Ongoing protests have demanded the prosecution of central government officials who opposition leaders accuse of giving security forces the order to shoot at Ak-Sui. Akayev has so far resisted such pressure. Nevertheless, his handling of the fallout over the Ak-Sui events has reportedly alienated hardliners within the government who favor a crackdown on opposition activity.

The Opposition Since 1990

In 1990, the revitalized Kyrgyz intelligentsia formed the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (DMK), which became the main force in the newly independent country's first parliament. The initial harmony between Akayev and parliament began to sour in 1993 amidst growing legislative resistance to government corruption and mismanagement. The president held a public referendum of approval for his presidency on January 30, 1994; the results announced by the government (96 percent in favor) were widely seen as rigged. Regardless, the referendum forced the parliament to dissolve. It was replaced by a new bicameral legislature known as the Jorgorku Kenesh. The DMK's leader, Topchubek Turgunaliev, was subsequently imprisoned on charges of fraud.

Fragmented and weakened, opposition groups took a less direct approach, channeling criticism through private media outlets and civil society organizations. Soon thereafter, the authorities moved to consolidate all printing presses into government hands and closed three newspapers entirely, including the popular Svobodniye Gory, the official organ of the parliament, which dissolved on September 5, 1994. Government officials also began the practice of filing suit against newspapers as private individuals, thereby exposing them to charges of defamation and slander.

In later years, the opposition turned to the international community as the administration continued to backtrack on democratization. Despite pressure from abroad, allegations of police abuse, religious persecution, trafficking of women and violations of the right to free expression by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International began to wear away at Kyrgyzstan's international reputation.

Akayev retained the presidency in 2000 by a landslide, in elections that the OSCE, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other international monitors regarded as rigged. Foreshadowing later events, the news of Akayev's reelection triggered public protests among supporters of Kulov and Omurbek Tekebayev, two other presidential hopefuls. Protesters blocked the main north-south highway in Jalalabad province for several days, and in the village of Baitik supporters picketed a number of government buildings.

The Opposition

The Kyrgyzstani political opposition falls into three general categories. The official opposition parties and their leaders compete for the presidency, parliamentary seats, and local posts. The second group is a more nebulous and unofficial amalgamation of anti-Akayev human rights groups, media outlets, and NGOs. Finally, there are the banned Islamist organizations that seek a total overhaul of the government. While there are clearly connections between these branches and their ultimate goal of ousting Akayev is the same, their different characteristics and methods of operation deserve separate attention.

Political Parties

In 2000, the number of political parties in Kyrgyzstan had reached 27, according to Ministry of Justice statistics. However, lack of funding, an absence of grassroots support and numerous re-registration procedures imposed by the authorities leaves only a handful of politically active groups. Among the most influential opposition parties is Kulov's Ar-Namys, created in 1999. Having a charismatic leader and an appealing political program, Ar-Namys quickly gained a solid reputation among students, unemployed youth, and the rural population. The Communist Party, led by Absamat Masaliev, a former General Secretary of the party during the Soviet era, retains its political appeal, especially among the elderly and among residents of southern Kyrgyzstan, where memories of a heavily subsidized life remain fresh. Many supporters of Tekebayev's Socialist Party Ata-Meken also come from rural areas in the South. The party's main goal is to gain southerners a more prominent role in the political and economic life of the country.

In the fall of 2001, amidst the political scandal surrounding the Kyrgyzstani government's secret land transfer agreement with China, four major parties (Ata-Meken, Erkindik, El and Ar-Namys) formed an influential political alliance called the People's Congress, with the imprisoned Kulov as its nominal leader.

Kulov and Beknazarov: Two Major Players

Earlier in his career, Kulov, a former Soviet police official, was one of Akayev's most trusted political allies. Having played a significant role in ending the 1990 ethnic violence in Osh and having providing strong military support to Akayev's regime during the fall of the Soviet Union, Kulov was made Akayev's vice president in 1992. Later, he served as Minister of National Security, during which time he was accused of participating in an aborted coup attempt. Meanwhile, much of the equipment allocated to a special task force set up by Kulov, including electronic eavesdropping devices, mysteriously disappeared. The president, already doubtful of Kulov's loyalty, demoted him in 1998 to the post of mayor of Bishkek. In late 1999, Kulov resigned and set up his own party to oppose Akayev in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections. In January 2001, as his split with Akayev grew deeper, a Bishkek court found Kulov guilty of fraud and abuse of power, giving him a seven-year prison term.

As Akayev applied pressure to the opposition, differences over the settlement of a border dispute between Kyrgyzstan and China prompted a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches of government. Kyrgyz nationalists and opposition parliamentary deputies assailed the agreement, in which Kyrgyzstan gave up 95,000 hectares of territory. Beknazarov, chairman of the parliament's Judicial and Legal Reform Committee, was the leading critic of the border agreement. On January 8, 2002, authorities charged him with various violations in connection with his handling of a 1995 murder case while serving as a district prosecutor. Outraged supporters, including civil society leaders and his colleagues in parliament (especially from the People's Congress, with whom he has close ties), staged hunger strikes and other protests.

On March 17, security forces clashed with Beknazarov's supporters in a remote section of Jalalabad province, leaving at least six dead and 61 people injured. The bloodshed triggered public riots in the Ak-Sui region, with crowds of people attacking government buildings and the police. The government responded by releasing Beknazarov and sending additional troops to restore order. Largely due to these events, Beknazarov has emerged as one of the most popular public figures in Kyrgyzstan, despite the fact that his base of support is mainly in the country's South.

The events of March 2002 produced more than disorganized unrest, however. On August 14, a number of opposition groups and NGOs – all of which had been involved in two public forums organized to discuss the clashes in Jalalabad – formed the Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akayev and Reforms for the People. This group, which included parties such as the Communists, Erkindik and Asaba, a number of opposition members of parliament and civil society activists, embarked on a series of public demonstrations and protest marches that ran sporadically through the end of 2002.

Civil Society as Opposition

As popular protests in the South accelerated, many opposition groups and political parties seemed to be struggling to keep up. Unofficial opposition groups also did their best to harness southern discontent. These include groups that in Western societies would not be considered to be of an overtly anti-governmental nature. However, in Kyrgyzstan (as elsewhere in Central Asia), the relatively weak official opposition and increasingly arbitrary behavior of the central government often cause potential dissidents to seek other outlets.

The civil society component of the opposition comprises several human rights and non-governmental organizations formed in the early 1990's with the solid backing of international donors. Prominent figures within this group are Ramazan Dyryldaev, chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR); Tursunbek Akunov, head of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan; Nataliya Ablova, head of the Kyrgyz-American Bureau for Human Rights; and Tolekan Ismailova, former President of the Kyrgyzstani NGO Coalition and chairwoman of the non-profit group Civil Society Against Corruption.

These groups and individuals maintain close ties with the independent media. Despite authorities' efforts at control, several print outlets have preserved some level of economic and political independence. Weeklies such as Delo No., Respublica, Moya Stolitsa-Novosti, Litsa and Agym emerged as sources of alternative viewpoints during the late 1990s. However, their small circulation limits their audience mainly to Russian-speaking residents in large northern cities. Among prominent figures in the media group are Zamira Sydikova, editor of the weekly Respublica; Rina Prijivoit, columnist and assistant editor of Moya Stolitsa-Novosti; and Kuban Mambetaliev, head of the journalist's association.

Since the mid-1990's, legal pressure against such independent voices has steadily increased, especially after the presidential elections in 2000. Moya Stolitsa-Novosti represents the most recent and severe challenge to officials. This weekly emerged in 2001 after the authorities effectively commandeered the prominent Vecherniy Bishkek by buying up shares of the paper. Employing staff from the co-opted Vecherniy Bishkek, Moya Stolitsa-Novosti published a series of editorials and articles exposing corruption in the upper echelons of power. The newspaper further angered the administration by connecting illegal economic activity to the ruling elite, including members of Akayev's immediate family.

Underground Movements

Recent developments have additionally served to strengthen various underground religious organizations, in particular Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a group calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia. Officials contend that leaflet distribution and other activities by Hizb-ut-Tahrir encourage the violent overthrow of the government. The group, meanwhile, says it advocates peaceful change. During its 1999 and 2000 incursions, the IMU also met with a significant level of popular support from the local Kyrgyz population.

Opposition Relations

Perhaps not surprising given the diverse nature of its components, relations within the opposition have long been chaotic at best and confrontational at worst. While vocally agreeing on some basic domestic issues, various leaders of traditional opposition movements and parties have been divided in the areas of democratic and economic development, responsibilities of government, foreign policy and domestic security. This can be explained by a set of geographical, ideological, professional and generational differences. While an increasing number of young, pro-Western liberals are assuming prominent positions within the opposition, the vast majority of leaders are representatives of the older generation, which preserve some of the values and ideals of the Soviet past. Another essential factor in fostering differences among opposition leaders is the North-South division. While many heads of civil society, media and human rights organizations hail from the North, an increasing number of prominent political and religious opposition leaders are southerners.

The platforms of opposition groups vary, and the only universal goal shared by all is a desire to have greater influence over how the country is run. On economic issues, there is broad agreement that direct foreign investment, elimination of corruption and reforming key parts of the economy are needed to improve the country's economic prospects. (Here and throughout the report it is important to make a clear division between secular and religious groups. In this particular case, the similarities in platform apply only to the secular opposition. Religious groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU see the construction of an Islamic state as the answer to economic decline, as well as many other problems.)

Despite agreeing on general economic strategy, political parties and civil society groups have sharp differences on reform tactics concerning key issues, including land ownership, rent subsidies and utility tariffs. Some leaders (particularly the Communists and other populist parties) steadfastly oppose drastic changes that may have a negative impact on their constituents, while others feel that reforming these key areas is essential to sustainable growth.

Geopolitically, there are likewise both similarities and differences of opinion. While some segments see Western assistance as a vital solution, others consider Russia's role to be indispensable. The benefits and harms of the deployment of troops belonging to the US-led anti-terrorism coalition in 2001 caused heated debates in the national parliament and in the public. Opponents argued that collaboration with the anti-terrorist coalition would endanger Kyrgyzstan's relations with Iran, China and Russia and would invite new terrorist incursions, while supporters noted the considerable economic and security benefits of cooperating with the US and its allies. In contrast, the conditions of the border agreement between Kyrgyzstan and China provoked an outcry by nearly all segments of the opposition and caused an extended political scandal. Opposition media outlets and figures charged that Akayev's administration was trading Kyrgyzstani land for political points. Likewise, some opposition leaders, such as Turgunaliev, say Akayev's decision to grant Russia basing rights at Kant airport constitutes a "betrayal of the state's interests."

Sources of Support

Regardless of their respective platforms, these groups have risen to new prominence recently. As noted, among the political reasons for their resurgence are the growing authoritarianism and ineffectualness of Akayev's regime, the radicalization of politics and the inability of the authorities to address the threat of Islamic militant groups. No less significant are the rising rivalries among political clans, the vast patronage networks determined by ethnicity and geography.

Ties with one of three clan "wings" traditionally determine Kyrgyz identity in public and private life. The Ong wing includes seven clans from the North and West (including the current president's clan, the Sarybagysh), the Sol represents a single large clan that has its roots in southern Kyrgyzstan and the Ichkilik many smaller clans that also have strong links to the South. Informal power-sharing arrangements among clans helped maintain stability in Kyrgyzstan during the early years of independence. However, local observers say the rising political unrest in 2002 is closely connected to the northern clans' reluctance or inability to address the complaints of southern groups. Many prominent opposition leaders (such as Beknazarov, Tekebayev, Adahan Madumarov and Bektur Asanov) are aligned with southern clans, especially those of the Ichkilik group. There is growing cohesion and cooperation among southerners in their common aim of loosening the Ong wing's grip on power.

While recent events can be partially attributed to clan rivalry, economic factors also cannot be ignored. As living standards continue to plummet, new political movements and parties have formed to exploit growing popular discontent. Groups such as El, Ata-Meken, the Agrarian-Labor Party, Erkin Kyrgyzstan and Asaba have competed for popular support on an economic platform. Meanwhile, the Communist Party has gradually rebuilt its traditional power base, due largely to the authorities' failure to achieve better living standards. The widespread poverty, growing unemployment among youth and growing monopolization of opportunity by a small group of business elites have fostered discontent. This disgruntled constituency includes an expanding number of grassroots civil society groups, journalists and human rights activists.

Some of these groups represent the country's ethnic Uzbeks, who make up roughly 20 percent of the country's population (mostly in the South), and are a substantial element of those that feel excluded from political and economic participation in society. Their marginalization has led many to find an outlet in other areas, such as radical Islam. Ethnic Uzbeks predominate in the various unsanctioned religious groups that are active in Kyrgyzstan, including Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU.

Authorities in Bishkek have long considered Uighurs, another important ethnic minority, as a potential threat to warming Kyrgyzstani-Chinese relations. Uighurs have long agitated for greater autonomy from China, which controls the Uighur homeland, Xinjiang. Kyrgyzstani law enforcement officials have linked the June 2002 murders of several Chinese diplomats and traders in Bishkek to Uighur criminal groups. In their position on the periphery of Kyrgyzstani society, the Uighurs, like the Uzbeks, are potential recruits for banned radical groups.

Sources of funding for opposition parties and groups vary. Civil society and human rights groups rely heavily on grants from international NGOs, private donors, and some Western governments. Because Kyrgyzstani legislation generally forbids outside funding for political parties, especially prior to elections, nearly all parties and groups rely predominantly on the personal resources of their individual leaders and the vast patronage networks of their clans. Prominent opposition figures also gain financial support from various fundraising events in their constituencies and from influential allies in the business elite or even criminal organizations.

Similar to secular groups, outside sympathizers have long been sources of financial support for the religious branch of the opposition. Over the past decade, Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt have reportedly provided the means to construct new mosques and educate Islamic clerics. Many of these groups were later forced to go underground by governmental pressure.

Government Action Against the Opposition

The government has applied a mixed policy of incentives and penalties as it seeks to rein in those who oppose it. As incentives, the authorities have granted tax relief, financial concessions and state contracts to the businesses of some prominent public figures friendly to the regime. In one economic move that appeared targeted to secure the support of local communities, Akayev issued a decree in 1994 that offered monthly salaries to some aksakals – local elders who have traditionally been influential in grassroots decision-making processes. Similarly, some outspoken leaders of civil society have been offered positions in the President's cabinet. For instance, Joomart Otorbayev, chairman of the Moya Strana party and one of Akayev's leading economic critics, accepted the post of Minister for Economic Development in May 2001.

In some cases, authorities have also co-opted well-known opposition parliament members to alter their positions, especially during elections. Those moderate opposition figures and dissidents who were willing to cooperate with the administration have reportedly enjoyed free vacations, chauffeured government vehicles, cheap property in sought-after areas and other privileges.

On the other hand, the government has brought a vast array of bureaucratic weapons to bear on its less-yielding opponents, including utilization of the judicial system to silence political critics. Among high-profile cases are those of two-time prisoner of conscience Turgunaliev, the currently imprisoned Kulov and prosecution of fellow politicians and civil society figures Beknazarov and Sydikova. (Sydikova was found guilty of libel or slander a total of three times: in 1995, 1997 and 2000.) Meanwhile, others have been continuously harassed, physically assaulted and forced to flee the country, such as KCHR's Dyryldaev (who recently returned). The riots in Ak-Sui were the last and worst in a series of cases of police violence against demonstrators.

Additionally, the tax police and other agencies frequently target opposition leaders and mass media outlets for audits and inspections. Opposition groups characterize such action as punitive assaults designed to curtail free speech. Occasionally, authorities have simply assumed control of an opposition structure, the most prominent instance being the take-over of the weekly Vecherniy Bishkek mentioned above. Meanwhile, state-controlled media frequently seek to discredit prominent opposition leaders, especially during election campaigns. As an OSCE report on the last presidential elections noted, the Kyrgyzstani state media showed an "overwhelming bias in news programming for the incumbent."

Future Prospects

Splits in the Opposition

Until relatively recently, the Kyrgyzstani opposition has had little impact on the internal politics of the country. Shortcomings in the areas of leadership, grassroots appeal, organizational structure and funding hindered the emergence of a broad movement with significant national appeal. Over the past few years, local media outlets have started to distinguish between "constructive" and "radical" wings of the opposition. While pro-governmental media such as Vecherniy Bishkek and the state broadcasting company offer relatively favorable coverage of more moderate members of the opposition, independent weeklies tend to align themselves with hard-line opposition elements. As a result, there are constant clashes between state-controlled media and private outlets.

This separation of the opposition into moderate and radical wings has been exacerbated by the events in the South. While the Bishkek-based opposition has had little success in turning public protest to its advantage, southern politicians have grown in influence and done their best to ride the wave of popular discontent (as seen by the recent activities of the Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akayev).

The focus among opposition groups continues to remain on personalities rather than on organizations, fostering a lack of cohesion in the movement as a whole. At the same time, suspicions linger about the democratic credentials of some opposition leaders. For example, some analysts suggest Kulov, in the event of gaining the presidency, might follow Akayev's example and resort to authoritarian methods to protect his personal authority. They base their claims on Kulov's murky record while holding top government appointments. Observers add that opposition leaders say that the opposition needs to become more transparent and collaborative for it to increase its chances of succeeding in its political aims. As long as the opposition remains divided, dissent may be channeled into other forms of activity, such as the work of civil society groups (both political and apolitical), or the forces of radical Islam.

Outlook

Despite the opposition's lack of cohesion, Akayev found himself in a tenuous position towards the end of 2002. His handling of the fallout of the Ak-Sui riots prompted withering criticism not only from the opposition, but also from hardliners within government, leaving him politically isolated. Indeed, some analysts believe Akayev sanctioned the establishment of a Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan in order to secure Moscow's political support, thus reinforcing his sagging domestic position. A few observers suggest that the Russian presence in Kyrgyzstan may embolden Akayev to attempt a forceful crackdown against his political opponents. At the same time, they question whether – even with Russian support – Akayev has sufficient backing to carry out a crackdown. Meanwhile, some opposition leaders, including Turgunaliev, boldly predict that Akayev's domestic political position could become untenable in 2003. Turgunaliev and some others do not exclude the possibility that the president might possibly resign suddenly before his term ends and flee the country.

Other experts expect Akayev to serve out his term in spite of his lack of popularity. Two rounds of elections are scheduled for 2005: parliamentary races in February, followed by presidential at the end of the year. The current chances that an opposition leader would be able to win the presidential elections appears remote. The imprisoned Kulov is expected to be barred from being a candidate, and while Beknazarov is likely to win a seat in parliament, he lacks the backing of the northern clans and business elite to mount a serious challenge for the presidency.

It is highly likely that Akayev and his allies would prefer his successor to be determined via the model established during the Russian presidential elections in 2000. (The early resignation of Boris Yeltsin and subsequent rise in prominence of Vladimir Putin ensured that the latter would have favorable media coverage and the administrative support necessary to secure victory in general elections.) It is rumored that Akayev is in the midst of an intensive search for a successor who can first and foremost guarantee his personal security and that of his inner circle upon retirement.

Some analysts speculate that the recent attempts to assassinate the moderate Secretary of the National Security Council, Misir Ashirkulov, marked the beginning of succession clashes between hard-line and conciliatory branches of Akayev's government. In an attempt to deflect growing criticism, a decree from Akayev on August 26, 2002 established a Constitutional Council to recommend changes to the Kyrgyzstani constitution. Since then, the council's work has been marked by controversy, as opposition leaders assert Akayev backtracked from an original commitment that the body's composition would be equally divided among government loyalists and critics. Most opposition members have disassociated themselves from the council's work.

Although largely aimed at increasing the powers of parliament vis-à-vis the president, the proposed constitutional changes (on which a referendum is scheduled for January 3, 2003) include a notable provision to grant former presidents immunity from prosecution for any actions taken during their presidency.

Meanwhile, in the short-term, Kyrgyzstan faces the prospect of continued civil unrest and large-scale violence. Tensions in the South have remains high over court rulings against Usen Sydykov, an opposition member who was barred from participating in the second round of a parliamentary by-election in November. Despite his strong showing in the first round, the Osh City Court forbade Sydykov, a former vice prime minister and chairman of the Agrarian-Labor Party, from running on the grounds of his allegedly flawed candidacy application. Supporters of Sydykov viewed the ruling as a clear attempt to exclude him from a seat he likely would have won, and staged several demonstrations in late October. On November 23, Sydykov's backers declared that three southern regions that have been at the center of the ongoing turmoil – Osh, Jalalabad, and Batken – could attempt to seek autonomy if Bishkek continues to avoid addressing the population's concerns.

The opposition has done only a partial job of harnessing the momentum caused by the developments in 2002. Even Beknazarov and other southern figures may soon find that their lack of an organizational base and long-term strategy for opposing Akayev will lead to their marginalization, as protesters get increasingly dissatisfied and radicalized. There is sufficient foundation of discontent, mistrust, and vulnerability to make very real the prospect that a riot, border clash or terrorist incursion could rapidly transform into broader civil unrest. The tragic events in Ak-Sui have prompted several influential parties and informal political networks to exploit such sensitivities in an attempt to shift the balance of power.

Alisher Khamidov is currently a Muskie Fellow graduate student at the Joan B. Kroc Institute of Peace Studies at Notre Dame University.

Kyrgyzstan: Organized Opposition and Civil Unrest

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