Dozens of government critics in Kyrgyzstan were taken into custody on March 23 amid the opening of a meeting to promote national consensus. During the gathering's first day, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev questioned the viability of a "Western system of human rights" in the Central Asian nation.
Chaired by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, about 750 delegates from across Kyrgyzstan are participating in the Congress of Consent, or Kurultai Soglasyia, in Bishkek. The meeting seeks to foster dialogue on the country's future.
Protesters had gathered outside the congress venue to vent their dissatisfaction with tariff increases and alleged corrupt practices. Gulnara Jurabaeva, program coordinator of the Interbilim human rights NGO, told EurasiaNet.org that police rounded up groups of people outside the congress as the meeting commenced. "There were not only opposition members in the crowd who were detained. There were also people who just wanted to talk to some kurultai delegates, and ask them to put some questions on the [event's] agenda," Jurabaeva said.
At least 43 people were detained, she said, although some were immediately released. "The detained were wearing T-shirts with the word 'jok,' which means 'no.' The T-shirts were torn by law enforcement officers," she added.
Members of the opposition Ak-Shumkar party were among those detained. But the Interior Ministry, in a statement distributed by the 24.kg news agency, denied reports that Temir Sariev, head of the party, had been taken into custody.
Inside the congress venue, Bakiyev suggested that Western-style democratic ideals were not necessarily compatible with Kyrgyz traditions. "In Kyrgyz society, which is based on community life and responsibility, it seems that it is not easy to become accustomed to a Western system of human rights," the president said.
In addition, Bakiyev portrayed his political opponents as seeking to obstruct public discourse. "If the opposition members of Kyrgyzstan had kind intentions, they would have used the opportunity that was given to them to speak at the Kurultai of Consent," he said.
The opposition refused an invitation to participate at the congress, Bakiyev added: "Unfortunately, the nagging search for the smallest mistakes in the activities of authorities, and non-stop criticism became a program of our opposition long ago. We invited its representatives for the Congress of Consent. If the opposition had authority in local places, dozens of their representatives would have been elected to the local councils" that have sent representatives to the kurultai.