Kyrgyz coup: Who is new leader Roza Otunbayeva?

Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva has emerged in the wake of the Kyrgyz coup as the leader of an interim government in Kyrgyzstan, home to a key base for the US war effort in Afghanistan.

Sergei Grits/AP
Kyrgyz coup leader Roza Otunbayeva appears during a news conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Thursday. An opposition coalition in Kyrgyzstan said it has formed an interim government that will rule the turbulent Central Asian nation for six months. Otunbayeva said Thursday she will head the government that dissolved the parliament and will take up legislative duties.

Roza Otunbayeva, the woman lifted to power by Kyrgyzstan's second popular revolt in five years, is a Moscow-educated, English-speaking former foreign minister who will likely find quick acceptance in Russia and the West alike.

Ms. Otunbayeva, who served as Kyrgyz ambassador in London and Washington during the 1990s, held her first official conversation as head of the interim government with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Mr. Putin appeared to throw Moscow's support her way.

"It is important that the conversation was held with her in her role as the head of the government of national confidence," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "Otunbayeva said she fully controls the situation in the country," he added.

IN PICTURES: Kyrgyz coup

The US is likely to back her as well. She promised today that the US Transit Center at Manas (formerly Manas airbase), a key logistical hub for the US war in Afghanistan, will remain open.

Otunbayeva is described by analysts as tough but soft-spoken, and politically moderate in her views.

Born in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1950, she studied philosophy and graduated from Moscow State University in 1972. She went on to a career in the Kyrgyz Communist Party, and served as the USSR's emissary to UNESCO and ambassador to Malaysia in the 1980's. Under liberal post-Soviet President Askar Akayev, she twice was appointed as Kyrgyzstan's foreign minister.

But she broke with Mr. Akayev in 2004, accusing him of corruption, nepotism, and of undermining the relative democracy that had led Western observers to describe post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan as "the Switzerland of central Asia."

She formed her own political party, Ata Dzhurt (Fatherland), and attempted to run in 2005 parliamentary elections, but her candidacy was barred by Akayev's officials.

"We will not allow anybody to build a monarchic dynasty in our civilized republic," she told journalists, just before the March 2005 "Tulip Revolution," which swept Akayev from power.

An ardent supporter of the Tulip Revolution, Otunbayeva rapidly fell out with the new president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whom she accused of being even more corrupt and nepotistic than the Akayev regime.

Edil Baisalov, a Kyrgyz democracy activist and key civil society leader of the Tulip Revolution who has been in political exile in Sweden since 2007, says he will return to Kyrgyzstan to work with Otunbayeva, whom he believes is a genuine democrat.

"Roza is very sincere," he says in a phone interview. "She has only a short window of opportunity in the next few months. Having talked to her over the last few months, I can attest that she is most serious about her task of introducing a series of reforms and changes that will transform the country and make civic freedoms irreversibly strong.

"Unfortunately, we know that weeks and months ahead will be quite chaotic," he adds. "But in the very least, Roza hopes to create a level playing field for all political forces to take part in the future elections."

IN PICTURES: Kyrgyz coup

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