Clifford Levy at NYT:
Large-scale protests appeared to overthrow the government of Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday and its president fled before an outbreak of mayhem and violence in the capital of Bishkek and elsewhere in the country, an important Amerian ally in Central Asia. Government officials said at least 41 people had been killed in fighting between riot police officers and demonstrators.
While the opposition declared that it was forming its own government, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev left Bishkek in the presidential plane, though it was not clear whether he was leaving the country or heading to another Kyrgyz city. Earlier in the day, the police used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against a crowd of thousands that massed in front of the presidential office in Bishkek, according to witness accounts.
Dinara Saginbayeva, a Kyrgyz health official, said in a telephone interview that at least 41 people had been killed, “but it could end up being much more.” She said more than 350 people had been wounded in Bishkek alone, with scores of others wounded in protests around the country.
Opposition leaders said the toll could be as high as 100 people.
Laura Rozen at Politico
Jay Carmella at Jurist:
Anti-government protesters in Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday set fire to the prosecutor-general’s office amid violent demonstrations that have led to the death of the interior minister, the arrest of several opposition leaders, and the deaths of dozens of protesters. The protests against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile], which appear prompted [NYT report] in part by a drastic increase in utility costs, began late Tuesday night in the city Talas then spread throughout the country Wednesday. Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev was killed [AFP report] during an attack by protesters in Talas. Former prime minister and presidential candidate Almazbek Atambayev and former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev were among the many opposition leaders arrested [AFP report] as a result of the protests. Bakiyev has declared a state of emergency throughout the country, urging citizens to remain indoors. The protesters have also taken control [Reuters report] of the country’s television station, and approximately a thousand people surrounded the prosecutor-general’s office, reportedly setting it on fire. Reports vary as to the number of citizens that have been killed during the protests, with news organizations reporting as many as 50. Kyrgyz police used bullets and tear gas to protect the presidential office in Bishkek.
The protests come a week after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called on Kyrgyzstan to protect all forms of human rights [JURIST report], including “free speech and freedom of the media.” The statements follow recent events [RIA Novosti report] in the country that include the shutdown of an opposition newspaper, a police raid on a local television station that resulted in the station being taken off the air, and the confiscation of computers from a video web portal based on allegations of pirated software use. Opposition members gathered in support [RFE/RL report] of Ban’s comments. Kyrgyzstan was once hailed as a model for democracy in the Central Asian countries that made up the former Soviet Union. It is believed that much of the media pressure [AP report] is the result of the election of Bakiyev following the Tulip revolution that removed Askar Akayev from power in 2005. Last year, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] criticized Kyrgyzstan over its treatment of journalists in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials; JURIST report].
Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:
Stores are being looted, the office of the state broadcaster has been raided and automatic weapons fire has been exchanged between rioters and security forces. There are reports of black smoke rising from the parliament building.
The whereabouts of President Kurmanbak Bakiyev are still unknown but rumors are flying:
The whereabouts of President Bakiyev as of the evening of April 7 could not be verified. Some rumors circulating in the city suggested that he had taken refuge at the US air base at Manas, outside of Bishkek. Other reports claimed that he had fled the country. Opposition leaders, including Omurbek Tekebayev and Almazbek Atambayev, were reportedly released after being taken into custody on April 6.
Earlier in the day, Bakiyev declared a state of emergency following initial clashes between police and protesters outside the government headquarters. During the afternoon, demonstrators drove two trucks into the White House gates. They caught fire as Ministry of Interior forces stationed within the compound shot at the vehicles with what appeared to be live ammunition, a EurasiaNet.org correspondent witnessed.
Bakiyev himself took power in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution,” overthrowing authoritarian President Askar Ayakev, but his tenure has been marked by increasing authoritarianism and corruption.
If Bakiyev were actually taking refuge at Manas, it would be ironic. The presidents numerous threats to shut down the facility have been a perpetual annoyance to the Pentagon, which relies on Manas to bring goods into Afghanistan.
It’s no secret that Kyrgyzstan (or, as our State Department calls it, “the Kyrgyz Republic”) is a less-than-democratic society. Bakiyev’s reelection was widely considered fraudulent. But, more often than not, we’re forced to deal with the people who control the levers of power in a given state.
The news out of Kyrgyzstan is awful, and the latest events there should serve as yet another reminder that the Bakiyev regime has been significantly worse for Kyrgyzstan than the government Western governments and media outlets were so happy to see overthrown in yet another “color” revolution. Of all the governments challenged by “people power” protests in the last decade, Akayev’s was probably the most inoffensive and Akayev himself was a fair sight better than some of the other Central Asian rulers Washington continues to embrace to this day. Akayev’s overthrow never had much to do with “people power” or “democracy vs. dictatorship,” but was simply a contest between the ruler and the country’s elites and the replacement of one family’s control of the government with that of another.
Bakiyev has since imitated Akayev’s authoritarian habits and became even worse than Akayev ever was. The dead protesters in Bishkek are proof of that. The good news in all of this is that Bakiyev seems to have fled, but not before his forces have killed at least 17 and perhaps as many as 100 people according to AP reporting of the opposition’s death toll claims. These are the fruits of yet another “color revolution” that far too many Westerners enthused about out of misguided idealism, weird anti-Russian hang-ups or ideological fantasies of a global democratic revolution. Perhaps the most absurd expression of the enthusiasm for the so-called “Tulip Revolution” was a Chicago Tribune op-ed celebrating Akayev’s downfall and lauding John Paul II (no, really) as being somehow ultimately responsible, but there was virtual unanimity in the Western press that one more bad authoritarian was succumbing to the inevitable, glorious triumph of democracy. As it turned out, Akayev may have been the best Kyrgyzstan was going to be able to get, and ever since he was deposed Kyrgyzstan has been less stable, governed less well, and now joins Georgia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a new scene of violent repression of civilian protesters by a U.S.-allied government. Might we begin to learn from this that foreign political clashes are not usually clearly-defined ideological contests between democrats and authoritarians, and that there not much reason to celebrate the destabilization, political upheaval and disorder that such things usually invole?
Jesse Walker at Reason
UPDATE: Evgeny Morozov at Foreign Policy
Eugene Huskey at Salon
UPDATE #2: More Larison