Roza Otunbayeva: 'The Situation Is Not Easy'
Weymouth, Lally, Newsweek
Byline: Lally Weymouth
The interim leader of Kyrgyzstan on her country's coup and U.S. relations.
After protesters in Kyrgyzstan stormed the president's office and guards shot roughly 75 people, Roza Otunbayeva led a group that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from power. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth reached Otunbayeva by phone to discuss the situation. Excerpts:
Weymouth: What actually caused the outbreak of violence?
Otunbayeva: A number of reasons. There was a lot of corruption: in terms of transparency, Kyrgyzstan is 166th out of 180 countries. We are a country with such a low quality of life. But since Jan. 1, President Bakiyev started to raise the price for utilities [and] taxes on real estate. Then they started to sell strategic companies. A very big electricity company, which supplied electricity to Bishkek [the capital], was sold for $3 million, which is nothing. And they were corrupt--in fact, the utility company was sold to the son of Bakiyev.
The cause of the overthrow was a combination of rising electricity prices and corruption and the sale of those companies?
And political repression, and such a dramatic fall of human rights in my country -- All the papers and TV and radio [stations] were closed?.?.?.?the State Department human-rights report -- provided a very thorough description of our situation.
Some say Bakiyev's overthrow was orchestrated with Russian support.
I do not agree with that. Bakiyev closed Russian TV channels in Kyrgyzstan; he closed Internet sites where the situation was described. Then the Russian press started to show what was the face of the authorities. So that was probably counted as Russian support--but [it] was a correct reflection of the situation in Kyrgyzstan.
You said you would extend the [military] base rights for the U.S. for a year when the lease runs out [in July].
It is not a matter of extension because it goes automatically. This is not a high priority for this interim government.
But you understand the air base is a high priority for the U.S.
Certainly we pay great attention to our relations with the U.S. We value those relations, and we will continue with such long-term relations.
Would the interim government like economic and military aid [from the United States]? …