Kyrgyzstan president resigns, leaving new leaders in full control

Kyrgyzstan President Bakiyev resigned Thursday and fled to Kazakhstan. The interim government of Roza Otunbayeva must now try to restore order to the highly strategic but unstable country.

Sergei Grits/AP
Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev speaks to the media in the courtyard of his family home, in the village of Teyit, in the Jalal-Abad region, southern Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday. Bakiyev resigned Thursday and fled to Kazakhstan.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev resigned and fled the country, leaving political power fully in the hands of a group of political insiders who toppled him in a popular uprising last week .

 Mr. Bakiyev, who had been trying to rally supporters in his native south for a possible comeback, threw in the towel Thursday and fled, with Russian and US help, to neighboring Kazakhstan after being shot at during a political meeting in his home town of Osh .

A formal agreement with Bakiyev was reportedly struck following concerted international mediation by leaders of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, US President Barack Obama, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Under the deal, Bakiyev formally resigned his presidency and goes into self-imposed exile. "In these tragic days for the Kyrgyz people, I am resigning in accordance with the Kyrgyz Constitution, taking into account my responsibility for the future of the Kyrgyz people," Bakiyev said after arriving in the Kazakh city of Taraz Thursday.

"This development is an important step towards the stabilization of the situation, a return to a framework providing for the rule of law, and the prevention of a civil war in Kyrgyzstan," the OSCE said in a statement.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Bakiyev's departure as "an important step toward the peaceful, stable, prosperous, and democratic development" of Kyrgyzstan.

Unstable country in turbulent region

That would seem to leave the new interim government, under former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva in charge of the mountainous state of 5 million people, which is strategically placed at the heart of central Asia but is also one of the most impoverished and politically unstable in a very turbulent region.

"The political situation in the republic seems to be under control of the provisional government, and both Moscow and Washington seem to be favorable to the intermim government," says Sanobar Shermatova, a central Asia expert with the official RIA-Novosti news agency in Moscow. "But the biggest problems lie ahead. Problem No. 1 is the illegitimate character of power. What I mean is that two revolutions in the past five years have undermined the legal thinking of Kyrgyz population. Even after the first revolution (the 2005 "Tulip Revolution"), people took advantage of the situation to try and to seize property, money, or land. And under those circumstances it was impossible to make them believe that it was criminal."

Though Bakiyev will probably go safely into exile, perhaps in Turkey, Ms. Otumbayeva has called for him to stand trial for the deaths of 84 people, who were killed last week when riot police opened fire on protesters in Bishkek. The interim government has arrested Kyrgyzstan's ex-defense minister, Baktybek Kaliyev, and lauched a manhunt to arrest the ex-president's brother Janysh Bakiyev, who headed the state guards service.

"Public opinion in Kyrgyzstan will demand that some officials be punished," says Andrei Ryabov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "The interim government will need popular support, so they are very likely to do some things that the public is calling for."

Experts say big global powers with stakes in the region -- including Russia, China, and the US -- are likely to quickly recognize the interim government and move to grant it diplomatic and economic support.

Though Moscow has extended conditional recognition and emergency financial aid to Otumbayeva's government, Mr. Medvedev said in a statement that it will wait and see before formally recognizing the new regime.

"We will see, the current leaders have yet to agree among themselves, sometimes that is not easy," Medvedev said. "I would very much want the new authorities ... to be free from these faults," he added, referring to the corruption, political infighting, and nepotism that plagued Bakiyev's time in office.

It may be hard to restore order

But restoring order is not likely to prove easy. Kyrgyzstan is riven by internal divisions between its north and southern zones -- which are separated by the Tien Shan mountain range -- and faces serious ethnic tensions and potential Islamist rebellion in the turbulent south. Kyrgyz politics are dominated by powerful clans, who tend to treat official positions as a means of rewarding their own and excluding others.

"What lies ahead? I think small local uprisings, aimed at protecting relatives and clan members, will continue," says Ms. Sermatova. "Bear in mind that it took Bakiyev two years to consolidate his control over the situation in Kyrgyzstan following the previous revolution."

Manas air base

US officials say that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently spoke with Otumbayeva, who assured her that this government will respect the current lease agreement at the Manas air base.

The base, which is a vital link in the resupply chain for NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan, is probably secure for the time being. Bakiyev threatened to close the base down last year, but later agreed to keep it open when the US more than tripled the rent it pays for use of the facility.

"Any Kyrgyz government is likely to conduct the same foreign policy, of balancing the country's relations with big global powers, and therefore nothing is likely to be changed with Manas," says Mr. Ryabov.

"Kyrgyzstan's strategic position is really its only big natural resource, and its ability to provide powers with bases is key leverage that no Kyrgyz leader will want to give up," he says.

Indeed, the BBC reports that the deputy leader, Omurbek Tekebayev, said today that the Manas lease agreement would extend for another year


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