22 April 2007

From three floors above

Last Thursday night from the window of my third-floor flat, I watched group of young people stone police cars with chunks of brick and concrete while trying to block traffic on the busy corner of Logvienko and Kievskaya in downtown Bishkek before the upwards of 100 armored riot police disbursed them with concussion grenades and tear gas.

Earlier in the evening, after a week and a half of largely peaceful demonstrations, angry protestors split from main body of the anti-government rally to storm the offices of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev to demand his immediate resignation. They, too, were met with tear gas, concussion grenades and riot police. Smaller groups, almost all young men, scattered throughout the downtown, disrupting traffic and in some cases stoning passenger cars and threatening their drivers.

Before the evening was out, the leader of the United Front opposition group, former Prime Minister Felix Kulov, was disassociating himself and his alliance from the militants. By Friday morning, police and military forces were removing the protestors, many of whom were recruited from rural areas, and their encampments of tents and yurts from the public parks.

The opposition, which includes representatives of the police and military, mostly retired, had done an effective job of policing itself and its angriest constituents until Thursday evening. Government troops, substantial in numbers and highly visible, displayed a level of restraint that would be unthinkable in any of the other Central Asian nations in which dissent is all but impossible to organize and, when it becomes public, is unceremoniously crushed.

The violence of Thursday served to bring the Bakiev government, the fragmented parliament, and the divided opposition back to negotiations. By Saturday, Bishek appeared to have returned to a normal level of activity.

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