10 a.m. Wednesday (10 p.m. Tuesday RMT)
Opponents of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev erected seventeen yurts, traditional nomadic tents, surrounded by many more military-green tents this morning on Bishkek’s main square as momentum builds for demonstrations later today.
One or two blocks on each side of Ala-Too Square have been blocked to vehicular for several days. Outside that perimeter, police, military and government opponents were assembling today.
Since Monday, more than 90 members of the opposition have been engaged in a hunger strike across the street from the Jogger Kenosha, the Kyrgyz parliament, building.
American University of Central Asia, which is adjacent to the parliament, Tuesday announced it would be closed through Friday as a precautionary measure. There are reports that the opposition group led by former Prime Minister Felix Kulov is planning a rally Friday at the sports stadium in nearby Panfilov Park.
Earlier this week, there were protests outside Bishkek, mostly in the northern regions, and estimates of the total participants ranged from 3,500 to 12,000. The demonstrators plan to converge on Bishek this afternoon and one opposition member, quoted in the English-language press on Monday, said he expects 10,000 people.
There are thousands of demonstrators and onlookers at Ala-Too Square and the mood is fairly subdued. Some merchants along Chuy Prospect, one of the Bishkek’s main drags, were boarding their windows. The huge TV screen in the square, the property of the nation’s largest telecom provider, which is apparently owned by the members of the president’s family, was also covered.
Members of the United Front, which is led by the former prime minister, was the most numerous this afternoon, but members of Ata Meken, an opposition party, also marched to the square. However the most the impressive show of support came from several hundred men in military uniforms, presumably representing the veteran’s organization that last week indicated its support for the opposition.
Measuring the depth of support for the opposition is difficult to judge because many people in the crowds could be attracted to the crowds. Today’s activities appear very similar o the opposition demonstrations of last November, which often appeared to serves of social reunions for old friends. Common wisdom also says that many of the demonstrators, especially those from outside Bishkek, are paid to participate, which arrangement that has practical logic in a country as poor as Kyrgyzstan. However, the opposition also includes hunger strikers, a strategy of resistance general practiced by only the most committed activists, e.g. Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and the IRA’s “blanket men,” most notably Bobby Sands, who protesting conditions in Northern Ireland’s notorious Long Kesh prison.
Today maybe the hottest day of 2007. Many observers said they thought the demonstrations would heat up when the sun sets and temperatures cool.