Kyrgyzstan entered its sixth day of anti-government protests on April 16, after a tense weekend that included several violent encounters. With the estimated turnout lower than opposition organizers had hoped for, and with numbers dwindling by the day, analysts now believe that a political compromise between the rival factions is growing increasingly likely.
A deal appeared to be in the cards late on the 16th, as some of the more moderate opposition members leading the protests expressed a desire to enter into negotiations on constitutional changes. The opposition has long called for a reduction in presidential powers, and briefly achieved its goal after street demonstrations in November 2006, only to see legislators loyal to President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reverse many of the changes the following month. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, himself a former opposition member, has proposed constitutional changes that would again reduce presidential power, although not to the extent that the opposition demands. Kubatbek Baybolov, an MP and prominent figure in the For Reforms opposition movement, said on April 16 that For Reforms was willing to enter negotiations based on Atambayev's draft.
"We need to sit at the table and talk," Baybolov told the news agency AKIpress. "We, For Reforms, have come to the opinion that it is essential that we find consensus with the working group that the president has delegated to work out a new constitution." He noted that the movement had proposed roughly 20 edits, large and small, to Atambayev's version.
However, the more radical United Front, led by former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, vowed to continue its campaign for emergency presidential elections and constitutional reform. At an April 15 news conference, Kulov announced that the demonstrators had added an additional demand: the immediate resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
The country was approaching "civil war," said Kulov, according to a transcript of the briefing posted on his party's website. In response to the deepening crisis, he said, the opposition had decided "to include in these demands the immediate resignation of President Bakiyev, [and] the formation of a government of national unity jointly with our parliament."
Kulov's announcement referred to a series of fights the previous day that shook the protest, which to that point had remained stringently non-violent. The first scuffle came between opposition supporters and unidentified men near the State Television and Radio headquarters, to which the opposition had marched from its headquarters on Bishkek's main square. Opposition leaders claimed that their supporters were deliberately provoked.
A similar fight broke out as protesters returned to the square for the evening, again with unidentified, athletically built men as the reported instigators. A correspondent for the local news agency 24.kg, Aziz Egemberdiyev, was caught up in the fray and allegedly beaten by opposition protesters.
News of the arson of an opposition leader's car and the death of an opposition hunger striker under mysterious circumstances the same weekend compounded a sense of unease. The hunger striker, Bektemir Akunov, was found hanging by his own shirt after being taken into police custody in his home region of Naryn. Authorities promised a full investigation into Akunov's death.
Civic actor Edil Baisalov told EurasiaNet that he was "very, very concerned" about the recent violent incidents. Baisalov is a prominent NGO leader who took active part in the November protests but who, along with several other moderate Bakiyev opponents, has adopted a stance against the most recent demonstrations. "Even without this sort of news," he added, "the question is what gives the United Front and Feliks Kulov so much confidence?"
Independent analyst Abdujalil Abdurasulov agreed that Kulov's uncompromising stance seemed unwarranted, saying that both the numbers and passion of the protesters in November were greater than today.
"There is a lot of criticism that the current demonstrators, Kulov and others, are failing to have a dialog with Bakiyev and the government," Abdurasulov said. "There is a lot of talk among the population that stability is important," and "they [many Kyrgyz] realize that this is just a power struggle."
Baisalov said he was concerned that Kulov would continue to play a dangerous, "zero-sum" game despite the signs pointing towards a possible settlement. "Some people, they want to rule Kyrgyzstan so much that even half of Kyrgyzstan is enough," Baisalov said.
Daniel Sershen is a freelance journalist based in Bishkek.