Several hundred protesters marched through Bishkek on March 31, seeking the reversal of a Central Election Commission ruling that barred a controversial businessman from running in a parliamentary by-election.
The protesters were supporters of Ryspek Akmatbayev, a prominent entrepreneur who reputedly has strong ties to organized criminal elements. On March 30, election officials barred Akmatbayev from running for a vacation parliamentary seat in the Balykchy district in eastern Kyrgyzstan after determining that he did not meet residency requirements. The demonstrators called for the ban to be lifted so that Akmatbayev could compete in the by-election on April 9.
Though relatively small, the protest prompted many businesses in central Bishkek to close down. Officials also responded with a massive show of force, cordoning off streets and deploying hundreds of riot troops to protest the presidential administration building, known as the White House.
The protest ended after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, surrounded by a massive security detail, met with some of the protesters. The president cautioned that disputes, such as that surrounding Akmatbayev's eligibility to be a candidate, "should be resolved in a legal way." He went on to urge the protesters to appeal the CEC's decision in court.
Later, in comments broadcast on television, Bakiyev criticized the government's handling of the demonstration. He indicated that "highly placed officials" a clear reference to Prime Minister Feliks Kulov should have tried to engage the protesters earlier, instead of immediately going into crisis mode and deploying riot troops. Under an arrangement brokered before the 2005 special presidential election, Bakiyev and Kulov are supposedly partners in power. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But the two have often been increasingly at odds in 2006.
The protesters on March 31 called for Kulov's resignation. The prime minister and Akmatbayev have been locked in a political feud since January, when the prime minister accused Akmatbayev of seeking to destabilize Kyrgyzstan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Akmatbayev responded by alleging Kulov was involved in the murder of Ryspek's brother, MP Tynychbek Akmatbayev, during a prison riot in October 2005. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The prime minister's press service said that Kulov was interested in meeting with Akmatbayev to discuss their differences, adding that nothing had yet been scheduled. In January, Akmatbayev was found not guilty after a trial on murder and racketeering charges.
Two days before the protest, the OSCE's chairman-in-office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, visited Bishkek. He urged Kyrgyz officials to take a tougher stand against widespread corruption that was undermining the government's credibility. "It is very important to efficiently combat corruption. We cannot expect 100 percent results, but we can expect 100 percent commitment," De Gucht told Kyrgyz officials, according to an OSCE statement.