The Tokmok City court has dropped a criminal case against the son of Bishkek Mayor Isa Omurkulov for his role in a fatal August car accident. Omurkulov is a close ally of outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva and her successor, President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev.
Azamat Omurkulov was on trial for killing three young people in a late night head-on collision while speeding back from a resort at Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul. The mayor’s son was reportedly driving in the wrong lane in excess of 200km (125 miles) per hour when he struck the oncoming car with his Toyota Land Cruiser.
The case, which has appeared vulnerable to political pressures from the start, was halted November 24 when the last of the victims’ families declined to press charges.
First, local media reported suspicious inconsistencies in the accident report, in particular with the younger Omurkulov’s license-plate number. Originally listed as having a number associated with the mayor’s office, the car’s plates somehow changed to a private number in the course of the investigation.
Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s “southern capital,” has been angling for the trappings of a true, national capital. Last month, the city’s mayor unveiled his own anthem and flag. Now he wants his own police force.
Melisbek Myrzakmatov said on November 10 that his municipal police plans are in the drafting stages, but could come to fruition in the near future. According to AKIpress, the new force, including a special forces unit, would be independent of Bishkek’s Interior Ministry. The mayor complained that police currently carry out political orders, not legal ones, on behalf of Bishkek. The Interior Ministry called the move illegal.
Myrzakmatov’s latest show of nonalignment with Bishkek will pose a big test for President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev. Among Western investigators, the meaty-armed mayor, perhaps more than any other official, has been linked to the ethnic violence last year between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which killed over 400, and is often described as part of the reason his city remains divided. The central government, almost 700 kilometers away, beyond a twisting mountain road, has been powerless to remove him. Appointed by ousted ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in January 2009, Myrzakmatov won’t budge. When Bishkek tried to fire him in August 2010, shortly after the ethnic bloodletting, he brought his supporters into the streets and declared the central government has “no legal force in the south.”
A 2008 event in which U.S. special operations soldiers trained their Kyrgyzstan counterparts was a "success" -- except for the part when the Americans were relieved of their money and their weapons by the Kyrgyz. That's the unlikely assessment given by a U.S. embassy official in a Wikileaked cable.The cable was written in January 2009 for General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. Central Command, ahead of his visit to the country.
Check out this extraordinary paragraph:
We assess Kyrgyz Special Forces to be among the best in the region and very receptive to SOF [special operations forces] engagement. In August 2008, we conducted training with the Alphas, the operational arm of the State Security Committee. While the training was a success, it was marred by the seizure by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, of the team's equipment, to include personal items, money and all the team's weapons kits. The Embassy has engaged the Kyrgyz Government up to the Presidential level to secure the release of the equipment but, to date, they have returned only a small portion of the weapons. The incident has also highlighted the need for increased coordination between the U.S. and Kyrgyz authorities to ensure smooth, successful future training engagements. Your visit can help move us closer to resolution of this issue.
Ever since Almazbek Atambayev won last month's presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan and promptly announced that he would close the U.S.'s Manas air base, there has been a lot of handwringing about Manas's future. Those inclined to armchair geopoliticking saw it as a victory for Russia, while others dismissed it as a bargaining ploy, an attempt to squeeze more money out of the Pentagon next time the terms of the base came up for negotiations. After all, that's what happened in the past when Kyrgyzstan's government threatened to close the base. But Lincoln Mitchell, writing in The Faster Times, has a different interpretation:
The situation today is different. Atanbaev’s position does not appear to be a case of simply trying to line his pockets with more American money, but has expressed his view based on his country’s geographical and strategic proximity to Russia and a fear that having a U.S. air force base just outside of his country’s capital could create security concerns for Kyrgyzstan. While this position is not what the U.S. wants to hear, it is also reasonable and can plausibly said to be representing the interests of the Kyrgyz people.
Atambayev in fact campaigned on a promise to close the base, calculating -- apparently correctly -- that that was a winning position. Mitchell continues:
Bishkek has breathed a sigh of relief. After a few nerve-wracking days, post-election protests in the country’s restive south have come to a halt. Hundreds of voters, disenchanted with last week’s results, held rallies in Jalal-Abad and Osh—a stark reminder of Kyrgyzstan’s treacherous north-south divide and the capital’s weak hold over the country’s more densely populated half.
Publicly, President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev, a northerner, had little to offer his disgruntled citizens, lying low during the protests. Perhaps, he was negotiating behind closed doors with southern strongman Kamchybek Tashiev, who placed third in the October 30 ballot and personally called off the protests by his supporters, on November 4, just in time for a long holiday weekend. Tashiev denied rumors of a deal, but said he would not endorse violence, or the seizure of government buildings—a tactic used by southern protesters in support of native son and ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, following his bloody ouster last year.
Traffic in Kyrgyzstan is always dangerous for pedestrians. Even sidewalks are perilous places.
Police in the impoverished southern province of Batken have detained a 16-year-old suspected of crushing to death two 9-year-olds and injuring four more children in a hit-and-run accident involving a stolen Mercedes.
Local press reports cited police as saying the young man worked at a car wash and filched a set of extra keys from the car’s owner. Around midday on October 20, the car rammed into a group of second- and third-graders walking down the side of the road in the town of Kyzyl-Kiya, then slid up a pole and fell over; the driver disappeared. Two of the children died on the spot, while the others were hospitalized with various injuries. Strangely, the only criminal charges mentioned in the news reports are traffic safety violations and “leaving [someone] endangered,” not manslaughter.
The devastating collision fits Kyrgyzstan’s troubling pattern in road safety: According to World Health Organization statistics from 2007, 43 percent of fatalities resulting from traffic accidents were among pedestrians. (In neighboring Kazakhstan, a much larger and wealthier country where drivers often stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings, the proportion was only 16 percent.)
My television in Bishkek is old. The antenna often only provides a weak black and white signal. But these images from public broadcaster ELTR should give those outside the country an idea what Kyrgyzstan’s presidential race looked like from a local living room.
This week, as the campaign wound down and candidates tried to spend the remaining funds in their war chests, television aired their advertisements almost non-stop. Of 83 who originally expressed interest in running, only 16 appeared on the October 30 ballot.
Most of these spots ran in Kyrgyz with Russian subtitles.
Voters in Kyrgyzstan's ethnically divided southern city of Osh voted for a new president on October 30, turning out in large numbers despite fears of unrest.
Osh was the scene of ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in June, 2010. Two nationalist politicians are popular with ethnic Kyrgyz in this southern region: Adahan Madumarov and Kamchybek Tashiev. But most Uzbeks told me they were voting for Almazbek Atambayev, a northerner, who they feel is more able to unify the country.
That is, Uzbeks who were voting. The day before the poll, in the Uzbek neighborhood of Cheremushki, which was largely destroyed during the “June Events,” many young men told me they wouldn’t vote at all, so afraid of reprisals from Kyrgyz supporters of Madumarov and Tashiev.
Overall, the day was calm, with everyone I met expressing hope for a peaceful and stable Kyrgyzstan.
Editor's Note: Nicolas Tanner is a freelance journalist based in Osh.
Here’s some good news for the Ferghana Valley: Uzbekistan has reopened its frontier with Kyrgyzstan, 18 months after unilaterally screwing it shut. Tashkent closed the border during the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, dramatically wounding trade in southern Kyrgyzstan.
One study last winter found commerce in the region’s largest market, Kara-Suu, had fallen by 75 percent, encouraging higher food prices and smuggling.
The Dostuk (“Friendship”) border post between Osh and Andijan reopened early on October 26, Bishkek’s AKIpress news agency reported. There is no word yet whether other posts along the 1100-kilometer frontier will open.
But why now, four days before Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, when Bishkek is bracing for more political or ethnic violence? Wasn’t Tashkent’s original logic to keep Kyrgyzstan’s messy politics contained?
A few possibilities come to mind:
For one thing, the reopening, decided on in Tashkent, looks like a vote of confidence for Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, the leading candidate in the October 30 poll. Opening the border would revive commerce, which could add a notch to the premier’s belt. Moreover, though the rights of minority ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan may not be the top priority on Uzbekistan’s foreign-policy list, Tashkent has shown concern about the issue, and Atambayev stands apart from the two other leading candidates as less of a nationalist hothead. (Besides, if, heaven forbid, the election should trigger a new round of interethnic strife, Kyrgyzstani Uzbeks in the south would have somewhere to run.)
As voters in Kyrgyzstan prepare to elect a new president on October 30, allegations that some candidates are using their official positions to influence the campaign – employing “administrative resources,” in local parlance -- continue to saturate the Kyrgyz press. But this week, local and international elections observers said they have seen few such examples.
On October 24, the Bishkek-based Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, which is conducting long-term campaign monitoring, expressed cautious optimism. “The electoral process is taking place relatively openly, transparently, and democratically,” concluded the coalition’s third report on the process, noting only three cases of administrative abuse.
Two involved state-employed teachers gathering students at campaign events for leading candidate Almazbek Atambayev, who stepped down as prime minister to run. The coalition did not observe the third incident, which was cited in parliamentary debate: Policemen in Osh backing former Emergencies Minister Kamchybek Tashiev allegedly seized the licenses of drivers who expressed support for Atambayev.
The list of irregularities is surprisingly short given that new allegations of violations, primarily against Atambayev, have appeared almost every day of the campaign. Only two weeks ago, Coalition leader Dinara Oshurahunova publicly listed a large number herself.
At a press conference October 24, Oshurakhunova said that despite the allegations, complaints have lacked factual evidence, making them difficult to investigate.