Kyrgyz opposition starts anti-president protests in provinces

Kyrgyzstan Materials 9 April 2007 14:53 (UTC +04:00)

( RIA Novosti ) - Major opposition parties in Kyrgyzstan started mass rallies in the provinces Monday in an attempt to force President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to implement constitutional reform or step down.

The United Front, led by former prime minister Felix Kulov, teamed up with the movement For Reforms to stage protests across the country's north, the UF press office said.

About 2,000 opposition supporters have reportedly gathered outside regional government buildings in Karakol and Talas, while Sokuluk, Kara-Balta, and Cholpon-Ata have each seen up to 1,000 activists take to the streets. In some of those cities, protesters have set up tents for camping out overnight.

Parliamentary Deputy Speaker Erkinbek Alymbekov, of the opposition Ata Meken party, told RIA Novosti by telephone from Karakol that the protesters are calling for constitutional reform, early presidential elections, and an end to corruption and nepotism. He said authorities are not trying to obstruct the rallies, but have tightened security around the venues.

Kulov's party was planning anti-presidential rallies in southern provinces as well, but has cancelled them owing to "the socio-political situation in the region and the pressure that authorities and law-enforcement agencies have placed on the United Front's regional headquarters," said Abdykaim Kangeldiyev, head of the party's HQ in the south.

"We have learned that they are preparing retaliation to a planned rally in the Osh province," he said.

On Wednesday, opposition activists from the provinces are expected to converge on the capital, Bishkek, in further protests.

Kulov, a former presidential ally in the 2005 coup which swept Bakiyev into power, last Thursday issued an ultimatum to the incumbent to sign a draft constitutional law delegating part of his powers to parliament by April 6.

The opposition said it would seek the president's immediate resignation unless he agreed to share his powers with parliament within 24 hours.

In response to the ultimatum, the Kyrgyz president conceded Friday that the current Constitution had many flaws, but said it could not be constantly changed under pressure of the political crisis.

Bakiyev also said he was ready for dialogue with any political force in the republic and willing to implement reasonable political reforms.

The opposition has scheduled a series of political rallies for this week, and Kulov previously said "power will be peacefully transferred on April 11."

The impoverished post-Soviet Central Asian country has been rocked by protests and instability for several months now. Opposition protests last fall resulted in the adoption of a new Constitution that delegated much of the president's authority to parliament.

But in December, parliament voted to reinstate the presidential powers after Bakiyev threatened to dissolve the legislature.

Kulov resigned as prime minister amid confrontation with parliament in mid-December, and joined the opposition in February.

Bakiyev then appointed a liberal opposition leader, Almaz Atambayev, as new premier, and instructed him to form a coalition government. But members of the opposition have refused to join the coalition, saying it would make little, if any, difference.