"Akaev out of office" chanted protesters today in Bishkek, demanding a free and fair vote on 27 February. They are also calling on authorities to allow former ambassadors, many of whom are now part of the opposition, to run for office.
The rally started on 8 January as opposition members gathered to protest a decision to prevent opposition leader and former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva from running in the election. Otunbaeva, one of the leaders of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party, was initially granted permission to run, but that permission was later revoked because of restrictions on former ambassadors. The opposition says the denial is politically motivated.
Otunbaeva, wearing a trademark yellow scarf recalling the vivid orange of Ukraine's opposition, told the rally she believes Kyrgyzstan needs radical changes. "We will vote for real genuine changes," she said.
Another opposition bloc, the People's Movement, joined the protests today. Former Education Minister Ishengul Boljurova addressed the protesters: "You are witnessing that the situation is getting grave, because the White House has been organizing closed-door sessions in all the seven regions giving orders [to local authorities] and saying, 'You should elect these people [in the approved list] and you should not elect those [in the black list.]'"
The movement's color is pink, evoking memories of Georgia's "Rose Revolution."
Some 100 pro-government supporters also rallied in the same square today.
Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the opposition Atameken (Motherland) Socialist Party, one of the antigovernment organizers, said it was not clear if the pro-government support was genuine. "Of course, the authorities have the right to bring their supporters to a rally," Tekebaev said. "But we will see now if the [pro-government] participants really have faith in the government. It is snowing and quite cold. If they will stay until evening, then they are staunch defenders of the government. If they just show up and go, it means they were brought to rally by the authorities."
Correspondents say the authorities may fear a Ukrainian- or Georgian-style popular "revolution" in the run-up to the vote amid widespread dissatisfaction with Akaev's government.
The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov as saying there were no conditions that would justify what he called a "Velvet Revolution." He said officials are taking measures to eliminate any possible defects in the electoral process that could threaten its legitimacy. He also urged the opposition to refrain from calling for civil disobedience.
Akaev criticized the opposition on 8 January. "I think this is unruly, irresponsible [behavior] and overall libel," he said. "I understand when the opposition and their criticisms are constructive, but [now] there are lies in the [opposition] newspapers. I try to be patient because progress in my country is important for me."
The issue of whether former ambassadors can run in the election is important to the opposition. The Kyrgyz Constitution and Electoral Code say citizens who have not lived in Kyrgyzstan for five years before an election cannot register as candidates. This would effectively deny ambassadors serving outside the country.
Presidential spokesman Abdil Segizbaev and Central Election Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev told RFE/RL they believed the protests were illegal.
The former ambassadors say they will appeal to the supreme and constitutional courts. Organizers say they will continue protests tomorrow.
RFE/RLs Kyrgyz Service head Tyntchtykbek Tchoroev and correspondents in Bishkek contributed to this report.