Akayev, making his first public appearance since March 20 clashes, struck a defiant note in the capital Bishkek in a speech opening the new Kyrgyz parliament, defending the legitimacy of the recent legislative elections and describing the unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan as a "temporary phenomenon." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The president also said he had no intention of resigning, as demanded by the protesters. "A decision on this question [resignation] isn't for any mob to decide, or for any political force to decide. A decision on this can only be made by the people," Akayev said.
Akayev during the speech did not express willingness to engage the opposition in discussions on a mutually acceptable resolution to the crisis. He went on to stress that the government would not resort to force in order to bring Jalal-Abad and Osh back under government authority.
"I would like to make it clear that I, as president, will never authorize such measures," Akayev said, adding that an "irreconcilable opposition" was attempting to carry out "dangerous destructive actions." All six opposition members of the 75-seat parliament boycotted the session. Opposition complaints that the voting on February 27 and March 13 was rigged are the driving force behind the protest movement. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Presidential aides sought to undermine support for the protesters, telling reporters that "terrorists" and "drug traffickers" were stoking anti-government action. Presidential spokesman Abdil Segizbayev told a EurasiaNet correspondent that a "Third Force" was in "control of the situation" in Jalal-Abad and Osh, alleging that mobs were roaming the streets in both cities. "People are afraid to go out," he said.
The actual scenes in Jalal-Abad and Osh sharply contrasted with Segizbayev's portrayal. Conditions were relatively calm and self-styled "people's power" governing authorities sought to consolidate their hold over both regions. In an address televised on a local station, Osh-3000, the head of the Osh provisional authority, Anvar Artykov, declared that Akayev's authority was no longer recognized in the region. Joint patrols, mounted by local police officers and protest representatives, sought to maintain order in both cities, and many residents in both cities were celebrating the spring festival of Navruz.
It is difficult to gauge precisely the extent of support for the people's power governing structures in southern Kyrgyzstan. A significant number of state-sector employees, including local government workers, teachers and doctors, may still be loyal to the central government in Bishkek, but many are laying low at this time, enabling staunch opposition supporters to dominate public debates. Law-enforcement bodies in both Jalal-Abad and Osh nominally transferred their allegiance to provisional governing bodies, but some police officers apparently were not reporting for duty. In addition, the crisis prompted the closure of all schools and higher educational institutions in Osh Province for a one week "holiday," the AKIpress news agency reported.
In an interview with the Russian daily Izvestiya, Roza Otunbayeva, a prominent opposition figure, claimed that "people's power" provisional authorities were in control of all but one district of Osh Province, five of eight districts of Jalal-Abad Province, as well as four districts in Talas Province and one in Naryn.
"We are moving towards control over half the country," Otunbayeva said. "The next goal will be Bishkek."
Otunbayeva downplayed comparisons of events in Kyrgyzstan to the popular revolutions that swept authorities from power in Georgia and Ukraine. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "Our revolution is following its own path, and will, I hope, realize its own goals," Otunbayeva said. Perhaps the most significant difference between the confrontation in Kyrgyzstan and the Georgian and Ukrainian events is that the Kyrgyz opposition has carried out its anti-government campaign outside of the capital. During the Georgia's Rose Revolution in late 2003 and Ukraine's Orange Revolution in late 2004, opposition forces focused their protests in the respective capitals of Tbilisi and Kyiv.
There have been few visible signs of support for the opposition-led protest movement in northern Kyrgyzstan, including in the capital Bishkek, and the Akayev administration is intent on ensuring that the revolutionary mood doesn't spread beyond the Tian Shan Mountain Range dividing the country. Authorities have reportedly closed the main highway connecting Bishkek and Osh. In the capital itself, authorities carried out mounted police patrols, and law-enforcement agents sealed central Ala-Too Square as a precaution against a spontaneous mass demonstration, AKIpress reported.
Earlier on March 22, a pro-Akayev demonstration took place at Ala-Too Square. Some university students, according to AKIpress, asserted that they were coerced into attending the rally. Those who refused to participate were threatened with expulsion.
While Akayev's grip on northern Kyrgyzstan appeared to hold, political analysts said the president had no apparent way to reassert his authority in the South. Some interpreted the president's declaration that force would not be used to solve the crisis as a sign of weakness, saying he had lost control of the "power structures" in southern Kyrgyzstan, and had no way of effectively deploying new security units to the region.
Akayev's aides hinted that the president will play a waiting game in the hopes that the opposition -led revolution self-destructs through an inability to maintain effective governing functions.
Meanwhile, in the South, leaders of the revolution say they are bracing for all possibilities. "The situation is explosive and could get out of control at any moment," the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Kurmanbek Bakiyev, leader of the fledgling opposition coalition, as saying.