04 May 2006

Still No Worries for the President

I met with the university students again last yesterday (we didn't meet last week because they were at a presentation on bride kidnapping). We talked about the demonstration, Bakiev and who might run if he resigned, the media, and passports.

They were nowhere near as negative about the demonstration as they had been. In my mind, one of the most important things about Saturday's demonstration was that it was peaceful and that many people were there (more on that below). It was very common to hear that demonstrations cause instability and that they aren't worth it. But the reaction to it has generally been more positive that I would have hoped for.

My husband and I have asked a variety of people who were at the demonstration for an estimate of the number of people there and we've had a range of 500-20,000 people. 5-8,000 seems to be the best bet though. Most are quite sure that there weren't as many as 10,000. The students said that many people who were there had been paid 400 som ($10) to show up. A common accusation in Kyrgyzstan, and not hard to believe.

There were students at the demonstration, although none of the ones I talked to had attended. Many people commented on the large number of older people there. It's pretty clear to me that many students were too scared to attend. I think the numbers might have been a lot higher without the intimidation from the government.

The students said some rumors say the demonstration was run by Kulov again Ryspek Akmatbaev (who still is in limbo about his Parliament seat; apparently he doesn't have it, since he has been charged again in a murder, and deputies are supposed to have immunity from prosecution). Other rumors say the Akaevs funded the demonstration, although they couldn't actually be there.

They weren't pleased with Edil Baisalov's speech on Saturday; they thought it was over the top and unrealistic. They had been quite positive about him before though.

They sounded generally willing to give Bakiev another year. I get this sense from a lot of people, and that's why I don't think Bakiev is in any real danger right now. Another factor in Bakiev's favor is that the opposition media only has a real influence in Bishkek. The opposition TV stations aren't available throughout most of Kyrgyzstan, so most people in the regions just get the official state news. Hardly comprehensive.

We did talk about potential presidential candidates if Bakiev did reform. Here were some of the names they came up with:

Almazbek Atambaev- just resigned as a minister and is the leader of the Social Democratic Party

Marat Sultanov- current speaker of Parliament

Omurbek Tekebaev- former speaker of Parliament and a leader in the demonstration

Azimbek Beknazarov- current deputy, former prosecutor, and lots of other things; also currently charged with writing three draft versions of the constitution

Rosa Otumbaeva- former foreign minister and ambassador

Adahan Madumarov- currently the vice prime minister

They though Madumarov and Sultanov had the best chances in that hypothetical race.

We talked briefly about the Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan and that they are not going to be refugees anymore in a few months. They would like them to go back to Tajikistan (most are ethnic Kyrgyz) because they feel that Kyrgyzstan can't possibly take care of any more people.

Then we talked about passports. One student is finally getting his new passport after a year of effort. Many people have old passports which aren't accepted by many western countries because the old passports were too easily forged. Kyrgyzstan has had a great deal of trouble getting new passports printed (they went to Moldova first, but they botched it; now they're working with South Korea) and many people aren't able to travel to many countries.

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