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24 Mar, 2010 06:14

Kyrgyz color revolution turns out a shattered dream

Public dissatisfaction is running high in Kyrgyzstan as it marks five years since the so-called Tulip Revolution, which swept President Bakiyev to power. People have taken to the streets in protest against his policies.

Broken promises are what protesters say brought them on to the streets. They accuse the leader of tightening his grip on authority, oppressing opponents and failing to root out corruption.

Dozens have been detained and an opposition leader dragged away by the police.

“The authorities go out of their way to hush us. They shut down radio stations, TV programs and newspapers. Nobody can say a word,” says opposition party leader Temir Sariev.

Five years ago, Kurmanbek Bakiyev grabbed power after the bloodless so-called “Tulip Revolution”.

The people wanted to see an improvement in their harsh living conditions, but they became sandwiched between rival clans vying for power.

International human rights campaigners Freedom House say democracy in Kyrgyzstan is deteriorating: several newspapers have been shut down, journalists killed and opposition politicians arrested.

“These are authorities ruled exclusively by their own mercenary interests, locked within just one family. The whole of the Kyrgyz economy is concentrated in the hands of Bakiyev’s son Maksim,” says political expert Aleksandr Knyazev. “And I believe it could be that Maksim here is not the key figure. He is most probably led by someone from the outside.”

Rumors in the capital, Bishkek, suggest Bakiyev’s son Maksim is a regular guest at the American embassy. It is also thought some of his advisers are trying to lure him into a tougher policy towards Russia.

In the meantime, the heads of the most influential families in Kyrgyzstan have signed a petition to the president demanding the removal of his son from power.

The leadership’s perceived cashing in on the US military presence in the country has also been a cause for concern.

Located relatively close to Afghanistan, the Manas airport is used as a transit point for American air force.

“All the contracts for air fuel supply, huge contracts were awarded by the Pentagon to the Bakiyev family-connected businesses. We estimate that annually the ruling family earn at least US$80 million of pure profit by hosting the American air base,” says exiled Kyrgyz opposition member Edil Baisalov.

What galvanized the situation around the American military base even more was the recent arrest of the leader of an Iranian terrorist group.

Iraninan Sunni leader Abdolmalek Rigi was captured by Iranian government forces on his way to Kyrgyzstan, where he claimed he was going to make a deal with Americans.

“One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for them to attack Iran militarily, but they plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iranian groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for this Islamic state,” Abdolmalek Rigi says. “They told me to go to Kyrgyzstan, where they had a base called Manas near Bishkek. The Americans promised to give us aid.”

The perceived danger of a training center for terrorists does nothing to ease the concerns of the Kyrgyz people.

President Bakiyev, meanwhile, has criticized the opposition for not bringing forward any constructive suggestions, only complaints.

“A country can’t develop without opposition. But rather than coming up with alternative programs, our opposition is busy with just groundless panning of the authorities,” Kurmanbek Bakiyev says.

Experts say that the Kyrgyz opposition is too split to present a united front against the ruling clan and there is a fear the public’s legitimate demands for a better life and security will once again be misused in the fight for power.