Magazine article Geographical

Kyrgyzstan

Magazine article Geographical

Kyrgyzstan

Article excerpt

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In January, the EU expressed concern over human rights violations in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan. Political repression involving journalists and opposition figures has mounted recently, leading notoriously to the brutal murder of a Kyrgyz journalist, Gennady Pavlyuk, in December last year. Ismail Isakov, the former defence minister and now opposition leader, was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for corruption, and other critics of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev have been targeted for state-sponsored prosecution and harassment.

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Kyrgyzstan was annexed by Russia during the late 19th century, becoming a Soviet republic in 1936. It became independent in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Covering an area of approximately 200,000 square kilometres, it's a landlocked, predominantly mountainous country. The population numbers some five million, about 60 per cent of whom are ethnic Kyrgyz, with Uzbeks and Russians the other major groups. Three quarters of the population are Muslim, with the remainder being predominantly Russian Orthodox. Russian is one of the country's two official languages, and Russia continues to be an important political and trading partner. The country's demographic profile changed markedly during the 1980s and '90s as ethnic Kyrgyz expanded from half to nearly 70 per cent, in part due to declines in the Russian, Ukrainian and German communities.

Agriculture, notably cotton and tobacco, forms the backbone of the national economy, last year accounting for 35 per cent of GDP and half of national employment. Industrial exports are dominated by metals such as gold, mercury and uranium.

Following independence, the government under president Askar Akayev carried out market reforms that led to Kyrgyzstan becoming the first Central Asian republic to join the World Trade Organization in 1998. While it has pursued neo-liberal economic policies, its reliance on mineral exports means that it remains highly sensitive to international market fluctuations.

In power from 1990, Akayev was ousted in July 2005 in a so-called Tulip Revolution, having fled the country after popular protests. …

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