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News Update
05-02-05, 00:25
Kyrgyzstan feels wind of change

By Leonid Ragozin

Kyrgyzstan's opposition leader has said the country is ripe for a democratic revolution, similar to the ones that have swept away Soviet-style regimes in Ukraine and Georgia.

But Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev warns that any bid to import any such "velvet revolution" may lead to civil war.

However, he says what he calls "revolution technology" could work in his country.

Kyrgyzstan is due to hold parliamentary elections on 27 February and presidential elections at the end of October.

A former scientist, Mr Akayev, who has remained Kyrgyzstan's leader since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, was for many years seen as by far the most democratic of Central Asian presidents.

But although his policies sharply contrast with those of his colleagues in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan, in recent years Mr Akayev has come under strong criticism from human rights organisations and Western governments for curbing opposition.

Mr Akayev said he would not participate in the next election, although recent amendments in the constitution allow him to do so.

However, his opponents say he might be looking for a successor among the members of his own family, like in Azerbaijan where the late President Heydar Aliyev was succeeded by his son, Ilham.

These suspicions have been fuelled by the fact that his son and daughter are both running for parliament in the February poll - unlike opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva who has been refused registration as a candidate.

Peaceful transition

But Mrs Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and ambassador to Britain, remains defiant.

"We will not allow anybody to build a monarchic dynasty in our civilised republic," she told BBC's Central Asian Service.

"I believe that [Kyrgyzstan] is absolutely ripe [for change]. Just one correction - we are talking not about a revolution, but about a peaceful, orderly and constitutional transfer of power. There has been no revolution, which ordinary people associate with killing and looting, in either Tbilisi or Kiev. Neither there will be such a revolution in our country."

In an interview with the Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper published on Tuesday, Mr Akayev called Mrs Otunbayeva "a driving force behind the opposition", which he claims is supported by the US.

The Kyrgyz leader, who says he wrote a book analysing "the technology of the Georgian Revolution of roses", admits that preconditions for a velvet revolution "of course exist" - and takes credit for their existence:

"I am sure that this 'technology' will not work in Turkmenistan. But it could do in Kyrgyzstan because we have the foundations of democracy, a multitude of opposition mass media freely operate, there is no censorship, and more than 5,000 non-governmental organisations have been created."

Islamist threat

But he warns about the dangers of such developments in the region that borders on Afghanistan and has seen an upsurge of Islamic radicalism.

"Many people are unaware that we in Central Asia have our own specific and distinctive features and that schemes for regime change of that kind can easily develop into civil war."

The deformed democracy that exists in our country is deforming our conscience
Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva
Pointing at the danger of militant Islamism, Mr Akayev says that instead of a revolution, efforts should be made at preserving the "unsophisticated" democracy that he believes exists in Kyrgyzstan.

Mrs Otunbayeva flatly rejects the latter, but agrees that a fully-fledged Western-style democracy might be too early for Kyrgyzstan, the only ex-Soviet state that officially proclaimed itself a developing country.

"Yes, we are not mature enough. But we should set correct targets instead of imitating democracy, which we have been doing for a decade. The deformed democracy that exists in our country is deforming our conscience."

Developments in Kyrgyzstan will largely depend on the position of the US and Russia, both of which have established military bases in the country in the wake of 11 September attacks.

Mr Akayev, who for years has been doing his utmost to maintain good relations with the West, now complains that the US ambassador is failing to understand his policies:

"He is inclined to believe that an authoritarian rule has become firmly established in Kyrgyzstan and that, on this plane, nothing distinguishes our republic from the other countries of Central Asia."

As for Russia, it remains largely silent on Kyrgyzstan's future after Georgia and Ukraine achieved their own transition to democratic regimes.

When asked where to expect a new revolution, Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky told the BBC Kyrgyzstan would be next, along with Moldova and Armenia.