Andrew Osborn








Kyrgyzstan leader is toppled by the "tulip revolution"

The Independent, 25th March 2005 14:41

Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Kumar Bekbolotov in Bishkek

KYRGYZSTAN BECAME the third former Soviet republic to experience a popular revolt in less than 18 months yesterday after its authoritarian government was dramatically toppled by thousands of furious opposition protestors.

The revolt, known popularly as the "tulip revolution", occurred at lightning speed as thousands of demonstrators unexpectedly swarmed into the government"s headquarters in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, forcing officials to flee and riot police to melt away.

The country"s president, 60- year-old Askar Akayev, was last night reported to have fled to neighbouring Kazakhstan with his family. Earlier in the day, some opposition protestors had threatened to execute him if he showed his face on the streets of Bishkek. Last night, the opposition said a man called Ishinbai Kadyrbekov had been elected acting president. Mr Akayev"s government appears to have literally crumpled under pressure and all the levers of power, including the state television station, were last night in the hands of the opposition.

Kyrgyzstan"s revolt is part of a pattern behind which some analysts, particularly Russian ones, see the hand of Washington. Similar velvet revolutions have already taken place in Georgia and Ukraine where Soviet- era authorities have also been thrown out by well organised street protests.

The trigger for the uprisings is always the same: allegations of rigged elections. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, the opposition claimed the parliamentary elections which took place last month were deeply flawed, largely because key opposition figures were barred from running. Yesterday the country"s Supreme Court annulled the contested elections and re-instated the old parliament which it was hoped would inject an element of stability into a volatile situation.

One of the opposition"s key complaints was that Mr Akayev, who has ruled Kyrgyzstan as his personal fiefdom since 1990, had rolled back democratic reforms and become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Analysts familiar with the situation said there was no doubt that the Kyrgyz opposition, which has up to now lacked a single unifying leader, had learnt valuable lessons from Georgia and Ukraine.

Russia is unlikely to be enthralled by the course of events in Kyrgyzstan. It viewed similar transfers of power in Georgia and Ukraine - where pro- Western governments usurped entrenched Moscow-friendly ones - as a body blow to its international stature. The situation in Kyrgyzstan is, however, slightly different.

While Mr Akayev was a reasonably pliant figure in Moscow"s eyes - and his prime minister was even an ethnic Russian - it is less obvious with whom the opposition"s allegiances lie and Russia has, on the whole, been relatively muted about events. Russia and America both maintain military bases in the Central Asian state.

Crowds yesterday released a man from prison who may yet lead the opposition: Felix Kulov, a former vice-president, who was jailed for embezzlement in 2000. Yesterday he went on state TV to proclaim the beginning of a new era, saying: "It is a revolution made by the people. Tomorrow will come, and we must decide how to live tomorrow." Another opposition figure, Kurmanbek Bakiev, a former prime minister, said fresh parliamentary and presidential elections would now be held.