Ballot or bullet?

An ethnic Uzbek child shows her distress as Kyrgyz policeconduct house-to-house searches in Osh

An ethnic Uzbek child shows her distress as Kyrgyz policeconduct house-to-house searches in Osh

On June 28, the new Kyrgyz constitution ballot returned a 90pc approval rating, but doubts still remain over the government’s stability.

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan are evidently not sure that they have control of the situation and that fresh disturbances will not break out.

“Osh will be rebuilt,” said Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the interim government. However, she did not exactly say in what time frame or with whose money – Kyrgyzstan’s treasury is empty.

The head of the interim government ordered the law enforcement bodies to clear Osh of looters, and to remove all barricades from the city within days. The worry now is that the disturbances, that have cost more than 2,000 lives, may be repeated. It is no coincidence that the refugees who fled the south of Kyrgyzstan during the recent clashes are in no hurry to return.

Outside Kyrgyzstan, too, there is no confidence that the truce that has been established will last. Robert Blake, the US assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs, arrived in the country on June 18 with the aim of assessing the situation in person. He did not side-step the recent ultimatum by one of the leaders of the interim government, Azimbek Beknazarov, who threatened to close the American transit centre at Manas if Britain does not hand over the ex-president’s son Maksim Bakiyev to Kyrgyzstan, reminding Bishkek of the geographical positions of London and Washington and advising the government to try to resolve the issue with the British judicial system.

Russia, too, it seems, is not sure about the strength of the interim government. At the height of the Osh events, a Kremlin source reported a frank telephone conversation between Mrs Otunbayeva and president Medvedev.

“I’ll ask you bluntly: are you a united team?” the president asked her.

“Yes,” replied Mrs Otunbayeva, “we are completely united now.”

Mr Medvedev: “I’ll ask you even more bluntly, will you be able to hold on to power?”

“Yes,” the head of the Kyrgyz government assured him.

These questions by Mr Medvedev to the Kyrgyz leadership were far from empty. It is important for Russia, which is being asked for help by Bishkek, to know who it is dealing with and how strong the new Kyrgyz regime is. After all, crime is like a tumour in Kyrgyzstan, with a strong influence on politics. During both the 2005 “Tulip Revolution” and the April events of this year – which culminated in president Kurmanbek Bakiyev being driven out of the country – criminal groups took an active part in the change of government, providing detachments of storm troopers to the politicians, Kommersant was told by sources close to the interim government.

Now, with the interim government that has come to power lacking due legitimacy, there are even more problems. Gangs have appeared in the cities which, in exchange for a small reward or an opportunity to loot, are prepared to smash up anything and kill anyone.

The new government understands that it won’t be able to cope with these problems on its own.

It is significant that Mrs Otunbayeva asked Moscow to help organise protection for strategic sites such as major reservoirs and hydro-electric power stations, where Bishkek thinks acts of terrorism might be organised – especially since, having analysed the scale of the Osh events, the government is coming to the conclusion that the carnage in the south was not just the work of the Bakiyev family.

“Clashes on such a large scale may have been engineered with the help of major drug dealers and criminal authorities, whose interests have coincided for a time with the Bakiyevites, who have lost power and are thirsty for revenge,” says a source in the Kyrgyz government.

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