Bakiyev backers upstage Uzbek opponents in Kyrgyzstan

By Dmitry Solovyov

JALALABAD, Kyrgyzstan (BestGrowthStock) – Impassioned supporters of ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev upstaged a rally on Wednesday by mostly ethnic Uzbek opponents in his southern power base.

Bakiyev has emerged from hiding to rouse support in his native Jalalabad region after his government was overthrown. At least 84 people were killed last week when his troops shot into thousands of demonstrators outside the presidential palace.

At an anti-Bakiyev rally in Jalalabad’s central square on Wednesday that had been advertised on national television, several women grabbed the microphone and shouted pro-Bakiyev slogans, denying the local Uzbek leader the chance to speak.

Support for the ethnic Kyrgyz Bakiyev is not necessarily split along ethnic lines, but the incident carried uncomfortable echoes in an area that has been a cauldron of ethnic and tribal tension in the past.

About 2,000 ethnic Uzbeks made up the bulk of those protesting against Bakiyev. They did not resist being sidelined by the 1,000 or so Bakiyev supporters, and local Uzbek leader Kadyrzhan Batyrov, who had expected to address the crowds, left the scene quietly.

“I feel something is being cooked up. I feel that something bad is in the air,” said Muradillo, a 34-year-old ethnic Uzbek musician, who said it was not safe to give his surname.

“I don’t feel at home in my native Jalalabad. They declined to give the floor to ethnic Uzbeks only because (the Uzbeks) are against Bakiyev.”

Kyrgyzstan, a poor Central Asian nation of 5.3 million people that hosts U.S. and Russian air bases, is split by ethnic and clan rivalries.

HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

The Ferghana Valley, which straddles southern Kyrgyzstan and parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, has seen violence before.

In the last days of the Soviet Union, Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent in troops after local Uzbeks demanded autonomy from the Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, provoking a series of massacres that killed at least 300 people.

“We are the descendants of Genghis Khan and we are the most ferocious warriors in the world,” said Syezd Satybayev, 45, a trained dentist and ethnic Kyrgyz opponent of Bakiyev.

“If blood is spilled here, there will be a conflagration throughout all Central Asia.”

Uzbeks comprise 14.5 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population, although the proportion is nearer 40 percent in Jalalabad region and at least 50 percent in the neighboring region of Osh.

Uzbek leader Batyrov told Reuters on Sunday that local people wanted peace, and that he doubted Bakiyev’s supporters could stage a rebellion.

Bakiyev himself planned to attend a rally in the city of Osh on Thursday, said his brother and security chief, Dzhanibek Bakiyev.

“We have enough forces to defend ourselves and the president,” he told Reuters. “I am still officially the head of the presidential guard.”

Umar Satkankulov, a 45-year-old handyman of Kyrgyz origin, said he and many others were undecided on whether to support Bakiyev or the interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, which has assumed power in the capital, Bishkek.

“In Jalalabad everyone is for peace, but we are still thinking about whom we should trust. Everyone appears to be doing everything the wrong way,” said Satkankulov.

Satybayev, the out-of-work dentist, earns his living doing odd jobs. He said the interim government’s biggest mistake had been allowing Bakiyev time to settle in Jalalabad region.

“They should have arrested him on the very first day, sent 200 protesters from Bishkek, and that would’ve been all. But he has now been allowed to dig in at his family home,” he said.

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(Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Bakiyev backers upstage Uzbek opponents in Kyrgyzstan