Kyrgyzstan: Unrest in capital ahead of presidential elections

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BISHKEK, 17 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Hundreds of protesters on Friday stormed a government building in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, demanding that businessman Urmatbek Baryktabasov be allowed to register as a candidate for next month's presidential election.

"I came from Ton district [Issykkul province, where Baryktabasov originates] to express my discontent with the new authorities and support our candidate", Shaktybek, one of the protestors, said enthusiastically.

Using truncheons and shields, police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who had occupied part of the building, with scuffles erupting as demonstrators were driven outside into side streets. Police later sealed the city's main square.

Upwards of 3,000 people had gathered in front of the government building from early in the morning, popularly referred to as the White House, calling for Baryktabasov, leader of the "Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan" party, to be registered, breaking doors and windows as they worked to enter the building.

"They broke gateways and stormed the building of the government house. In a moment I saw how the protesters penetrated building, but were then pushed back by the police," Emil Medetov, one local Bishkek resident, explained.

Of the 20 nominated candidates only seven were registered to participate in the presidential elections slated for July 10. The country's Central Election Commission (CEC) reportedly refused to register Baryktabasov because in addition to Kyrgyz citizenship, he also had Kazakh nationality and had not fulfilled the required residency requirement of living in the country for the past 15 years. The mountainous Central Asian state does not recognise dual citizenship.

When policemen attempted to eject the protesters, they began throwing stones. In response, policemen also threw stones before using tear gas on the group.

"27 persons received medical assistance on the ground, 12 were hospitalised," Burul Sepisheva, a chief doctor in the Bishkek medical service, said, describing the scenario.

"At least five persons were wounded during the clashes and more than 20 people suffered burns from the tear gas", Sergey Kobushko, a medical officer, added.

The election campaign, which officially began this week, has proven problematic with the signing of a charter among candidates obliging them not to lobby interests by organising protests in the country. Only five candidates signed the charter, which was initiated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), that has pledged support to the election process.

"The actions of Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan are lawless. It was an organised attempt at power seizure. We support law enforcement bodies that provide the opportunity to express discontent, but prevent possible violence. It turned out that some people had failed to learn the right lessons from the 24 March revolution when people supported the anti-national regime. I don't think it will have any impact on the presidential campaign", Edil Baisaloff, leader of the NGO 'Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society', remarked.

But many Bishkek residents were bracing themselves for possible episodes of looting in the evening - similar to those seen in March when former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev was ousted from power.

"The administration warned us of possible night looting and recommended we take away all goods to provide security", Semetey, a Dordoi Plaza trade centre vendor explained. The owner of Dordoi Plaza is Askar Salymbekov, a member of parliament and mayor of Bishkek.

However, as of Friday afternoon, the police appeared to be in control of the situation, with hundreds of officers guarding the building's perimeter. Friday's incident was the largest public protest since Akayev was driven into exile.


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