Serious political disturbances continued in Kyrgyzstan this week as part of an ongoing opposition campaign by supporters of a former parliamentary deputy, Azimbek Beknazarov, to clear his name.
Several hundred supporters briefly went on hunger strike after holding several police officers hostage on 7 June when police attempted to break up a blockade of the main road linking the capital, Bishkek, with the southern city of Osh. After several hours of negotiations, the protesters released their hostages and reopened the road. The following day, the authorities hit back and arrested 40 of them.
This in turn prompted hundreds of opposition supporters to embark on a protest march from the Aksu District on Wednesday, with a plan to march the 150 km to the western city of Jalal-Abad. The marchers said they were demanding the release of six of the 40 who had remained under arrest. They also called for the acquittal of their leader, Beknazarov, whose arrest in January on charges of abuse of power had sparked the current political arrests.
The country has seen a growing number of protests since March, when five people were killed and scores wounded during bloody clashes with police in Aksu District. Ever since those deaths, protesters have been demanding that those responsible for the killings be held accountable for their actions.
Beknazarov himself was released in May following more protests, but he is under orders not to leave the country, and his case has been referred back to prosecutors for further investigation. His supporters are calling for a full acquittal.
In neighbouring Kazakhstan, one of the country’s leading opposition politicians was said to be "at death's door" when government officials reportedly prevented his doctors from seeing him after he was taken sick - interrogating him for four hours instead.
Galymzhan Zhakiyanov has been held by the authorities on corruption charges in the northeastern city of Pavlodar ever since his arrest in April. Zhakiyanov had earlier sought refuge in the capital, Almaty, in a building which houses the French, German and British embassies, and whose ambassadors were given a reassurance by the government that if he left the building he would be placed under house arrest. However, within hours of emerging, he was arrested and taken to Pavlodar.
Still in Kazakhstan, Kazakh and Japanese scientists have joined forces to design a safe nuclear reactor in which an uncontrolled nuclear reaction - such as happened in Chernobyl - would be impossible. Kazakhstan has been working closely with Japanese experts for the past few years following Japanese support for the study of the impact of 40 years of nuclear testing at the former test site of Semipalatinsk in the northeast of the country.
Meanwhile, Turkmen opposition figures met in Vienna earlier this week and condemned what they described as the country’s repressive and illegitimate regime. In response, they said, they had formed an opposition umbrella group. They also called on international security bodies to bring t pressure to bear on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who has ruled the country since 1985.
In Tajikistan, the coalition government formed following the end of the country’s five-year civil war in 1997 continued to strengthen its grip over an ever-weakening opposition, following the sentencing on Tuesday of a former warlord, Abdulaziz Khamidov, to 15 years in prison on charges of setting up militias and perpetrating terrorism and attempted assassination.
Some of the parties to the civil war never accepted the peace deal and continued to wage small-scale war in pockets of the country in which they could claim control. One by one, the warlords have been brought into the government or otherwise neutralised.
Back in Kyrgyzstan, joint military exercises involving more than 500 soldiers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan began on Wednesday as part of the region’s new anti-terrorist rapid reaction force. The exercises are designed to formulate military tactics to eliminate terrorist groups, and are a main feature of the region's response to terrorism in Central Asia.
The rapid reaction force is also considered by analysts to be part of Russia’s attempt at preserving its influence in the region in the face of growing US influence following the 11 September events. Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov said Russian-Kyrgyz military cooperation would continue, and described Kyrgyzstan as an important new centre in the fight against terrorism.
And in apparent confirmation of the view held by these analysts, the Russian foreign minister said on Tuesday that while Russia appreciated US help in terminating the terrorist threat in Afghanistan, a time limit should be set on the US presence in the region. China endorsed this stance when it too reiterated its support for the US-led campaign against terror, but also its belief that US forces should leave the region as soon as the war in Afghanistan was over.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions