Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revolt Returns to Ex-Soviet Sphere ; Kyrgyzstan's President Fled Thursday after Opposition Supporters Seized the Nation's Main Seat of Power

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revolt Returns to Ex-Soviet Sphere ; Kyrgyzstan's President Fled Thursday after Opposition Supporters Seized the Nation's Main Seat of Power

Article excerpt

Another post-Soviet regime was crumbling amid popular jubilation Thursday, after crowds stormed Kyrgyzstan's presidential palace and sent longtime ruler Askar Akayev fleeing the country.

Parties loyal to Mr. Akayev officially won 90 percent of the votes in recent parliamentary elections. But the rapid collapse of his security forces and government after about 10,000 opposition supporters massed in Bishkek, the country's northern capital, Thursday suggests a very different reality.

"Akayev's 14 years in power have been a time of mass impoverishment for the people," says Sanobar Shematova, a Kyrgyz journalist who writes for the Russian daily Izvestia. "This revolt spread to the capital from the poorest regions of the country, where people are sick and tired of the corrupt authorities," and needed only a spark to set them off, she says.

Kyrgyzstan's upheaval will echo loudly in the corridors of power throughout the former USSR, experts say. Many post-Soviet governments, including Russia, share similar features to the regimes that have fallen to angry crowds in Georgia, Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan, in the past 18 months.

"Those regimes landed somewhere between authoritarianism and democracy," says Dmitry Trenin, a regional expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "Greedy and stupid elites disregarded the needs of the population, enriched themselves, and never noticed the discontent spreading in their own societies. More of these revolts are certainly possible in future."

Many worry that the deeply fragmented opposition, which lacks a central leader, may prove incapable of utilizing the power that has fallen into its hands with Akayev's flight. Thursday the Russian independent radio station Ekho Moskvi reported that Akayev was on a plane headed for Moscow.

Earlier in the day about 1,000 protesters cleared riot police from their positions outside the fence protecting the building, and about half entered through the front. Others smashed windows with stones.

"The authorities have proven very weak, but the opposition is not a mature force capable of ruling," says Ms. Shematova. Mr. Trenin adds: "Akayev is basically finished. But should the opposition fail to hold together it could succumb to the Islamist challenge. I am watching Kyrgyz events with great apprehension."

As in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last December, the trigger for Kyrgyzstan's upheaval was an election widely viewed as fraudulent. Parliamentary polls that ended March 13 returned a huge majority of Akayev supporters - including the president's son and daughter - but several opposition leaders were banned from running, several independent newspapers were shut down, and international monitors reported serious irregularities on election day.

Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court Thursday declared the nation's controversial parliamentary elections invalid, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. …

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