Thousands of supporters of southern strongman Melisbek Myrzakmatov rallied in Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city, Osh, on January 15 to protest his defeat in mayoral elections.
A controversial figure who has long opposed central authorities in far-off Bishkek, Myrzakmatov was fired last month after appearing to support an anti-government protest.
Over the following weeks, Myrzakmatov somehow lost his support in the Osh city legislature, which voted 25-19 against the former mayor. He alleges the vote was rigged and says his backers were intimidated. Supporters and opponents alike believe the central government engineered his removal.
Two parties with their roots in Kyrgyzstan's troubled south have announced a political alliance that could create a headache for Bishkek as it struggles to stamp its authority over southern regions.
The Unity of Peoples party led by Melis Myrzakmatov, the combative former mayor of Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, Osh, joined forces with the Progress party of Bakyt Torobayev, whose political stronghold is in the neighboring Jalal-Abad Region, on December 7, Kloop reported.
This political marriage of convenience unites two bastions of regional opposition to the central government and to President Almazbek Atambayev. The central government fired Myrzakmatov as mayor of Osh December 5 amid maneuvering over forthcoming mayoral elections in which Bishkek hopes to stamp its authority over Osh by wresting control of it from Myrzakmatov, who has said he will stand for mayor again. Torobayev hails from Jalal-Abad, the heartland of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was violently overthrown in 2010 to the chagrin of his many supporters in Kyrgyzstan's south.
Together the two leaders wield considerable power in their respective strongholds: Myrzakmatov's party controls the Osh city council; Torobayev's controls the Jalal-Abad city council.
The rabble-rousing mayor of Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city has been abruptly dismissed after he appeared to stoke anti-government protests this week.
Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev fired Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov on December 5 without explanation. Satybaldiyev appointed Alimjan Baygazakov, Myrzakmatov’s deputy, acting mayor.
The dismissal came three days after some 3,000 demonstrators rallied in Osh to call for the release of opposition politician and Myrzakmatov ally Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who was arrested November 20 on corruption charges. The mayor joined the protest, denouncing the charges against Keldibekov as “nonsense” and a “political order.” Protesters gave the authorities three days, until today, to release Keldibekov.
The news of the dismissal apparently came as a surprise to Myrzakmatov himself, who described it as a “political decision of the authorities.” Speaking in Bishkek, where he had been summoned to meet Satybaldiyev, the former mayor told the 24.kg news agency that Satybaldiyev “hinted to me about my dismissal, but I do not possess any official information that the corresponding order has been signed.”
Myrzakmatov declined to reveal details of his meeting with the prime minister, but said it concerned the rally in support of Keldibekov.
Thousands of protesters rallied in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan on December 2 to call for the release of opposition politician Akhmatbek Keldibekov, who was arrested on corruption charges on November 20.
They gave the authorities three days to free Keldibekov, a parliamentarian for the nationalist Ata-Jurt party, whose leader Kamchybek Tashiyev was recently convicted on charges of seeking to overthrow the government.
The Vecherniy Bishkek newspaper quoted police as saying that around 3,000 protesters turned out in Osh, but by evening police said most had dispersed, leaving around 100 people on Osh’s main square.
The demonstrators were mostly peaceful but some tried unsuccessfully to storm the regional administration building, Kloop reported. They also threatened to take the government’s representative in the region, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, hostage (he was whisked away by police). Sporadically over the past 10 days, Keldibekov’s supporters have blocked the highway from Osh to the Chinese border at Irkeshtam, an important trade crossing.
Protests outside the Kumtor gold mine in northern Kyrgyzstan have ended and the mine has resumed operations. But related unrest shifted south over the weekend.
Outside Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan’s third-largest city, demonstrators are blocking the country’s only north-south highway, creating a traffic jam several kilometers long, local media report. Since Friday, protestors also have occupied parts of the main government building in the city.
They are demanding the release of three nationalist lawmakers serving short jail terms for stoking unrest last October amid calls to nationalize the profitable mine, which, in a good year, produces 12 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Jalal-Abad is the stronghold of Kamchybek Tashiev. In that October incident, he led supporters over the fence surrounding parliament, vowing to “replace this government.” A Bishkek court this March found Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov – all lawmakers with the Ata-Jurt party, which draws its support largely from the south – guilty of trying to overthrow the government. The sentences were seen as light, but deprived the three of their parliamentary seats. Tashiev, who announced a hunger strike today, is due to be released this autumn.
As Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital recovers from the turmoil of ethnic violence and its aftermath, its ancient market has been a touchstone of Osh’s general wellbeing. Gutted by fire and fear in June 2010, it is now thriving again – though without the vigor and seeming prosperity of the days before “the war.” Both ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek venders work at the market, but under the surface tensions remain, as deep-rooted problems like poverty, injustice, and poor governance simmer unaddressed.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
Caption: Kamchybek Tashiev stumping during his failed run for the presidency, October 28, 2011.
A court in Bishkek found three members of Kyrgyzstan’s nationalist opposition party guilty of trying to overthrow the government and handed them short prison sentences on March 29. The verdict, though less severe than their supporters had feared, did little to temper passions outside the courtroom, where riot police held back several hundred protestors, local news agencies reported.
Under the terms of Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, the three must be stripped of their parliamentary seats, which should be passed to other members of their party.
Kamchybek Tashiev and two other Ata-Jurt ("Fatherland") lawmakers were arrested after a protest outside parliament on October 3 grew violent. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov organized the rally, which drew approximately 1,000 demonstrators, to demand nationalization of the country’s most-lucrative asset, the Kumtor gold mine. After vowing to “replace this government,” and “occupy” the White House, Tashiev led dozens of protestors over a fence surrounding the building and chased away armed guards. Tashiev later said he was just trying to get to work.
The three pled not guilty. Their lawyers vowed to appeal.
UPDATE / 0245 Saturday, Bishkek time: A Kyrgyz government source says the reports of Maxim Bakiyev's arrest are true, and denies that Maxim was released. (An earlier version of this post was headlined "Kyrgyzstan: Bakiyev Jr Reportedly Caught and Released in London.")
Late Friday night the website of Kyrgyzstan’s president announced that Maxim Bakiyev, son of the former president, had been arrested in London that morning. Maxim, wanted at home for fraud and embezzling tens of millions of dollars in state funds, has apparently been living in the United Kingdom since his father, Kurmanbek, was chased out of Bishkek on April 7, 2010.
But Vechernii Bishkek, a popular local newspaper, has cast doubt on the claims. The paper says it spoke with someone who had contacted Maxim; the source reportedly said that the former first son had in fact been detained but was released quickly with an apology “for the misunderstanding.”
A member of the president’s press office did not immediately return requests for more information.
Maxim, the demonized scion of the Bakiyev clan, who turns 35 this month, was also detained on June 13, 2010, when he arrived in the UK on a private jet. Six days later he was reportedly granted temporary asylum. Little has been heard from him since.
Protestors were back on the streets of Jalal-Abad on Monday to support a nationalist legislator charged with trying to violently seize power in Kyrgyzstan.
Late Friday, a court in Bishkek ruled that Kamchybek Tashiev must spend two months in a detention center run by the State Committee on National Security while investigators look into his October 3 calls for the government to be overthrown. That day, Tashiev led a crowd of young men over a fence surrounding parliament, before claiming he was just trying to get to work.
Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov, all from the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party, face up to 20 years in prison.
Tashiev takes his role as an opposition leader in parliament seriously. He is most often in the news for calling for the government to resign. But the October 3 rally – which was ostensibly organized to call for the nationalization of the country’s largest goldmine – was poorly planned and few think he had intended to force out the government. Instead, members of his party say he got caught up in the moment.
It was not a coup attempt, but “just a stupid move,” Fergananews quoted his colleague Jyldyz Joldosheva, also a deputy with the Ata-Jurt party, as saying.
Police in Bishkek clashed with protestors calling for the nationalization of a strategic gold mine on October 3. Dozens of men climbed over the fence surrounding the parliament building, known as the White House, before police drove them away with tear gas and stun grenades.
Two deputies from the nationalist Ata-Jurt (“Fatherland”) party led the protests, which local media reports say were attended by over 1,000 people. Photos show Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev -- who said he suffered a leg injury -- leading the assault. A deputy interior minister said Tashiev led the protestors over the fence.
Another member of Ata-Jurt, Sadyr Japarov, reportedly told protestors to follow him to the White House, where they would “sit in the offices of the deputies, the president, the prime minister,” the Knews.kg news agency quoted him as saying. Ata-Jurt has the most seats in parliament, but is not a member of the ruling coalition.
At least 12 people were injured, Kloop.kg reported, several with gunshot wounds. It is not clear who fired at whom or if some of the rioters were armed. Police were among the injured.