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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyzstan Faces Unrest 2 Years On

APPeople sitting near photos of suspected Islamist extremists on an information stand in the Kyrgyz town of Kyzyl-Kiya.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Two years after an uprising drove out his predecessor, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev himself is facing the threat of mass protests.

Kyrgyzstan, a country where both Russia and the United States have air bases, has faced nearly continuous political squabbling since the chaos of March 24, 2005, when a crowd broke through police lines, stormed the presidential offices and ousted longtime leader Askar Akayev.

The ripple effect is the pretext that it gives to rulers of other former Soviet republics to clamp down on dissent, arguing that Kyrgyzstan's experience shows that in Central Asia, people power equals chaos.

"Revolution causes poverty," President Nursultan Nazarbayev of neighboring Kazakhstan said after the 2005 uprising, and he tightened rules on public protests in that country.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan's problems remain unattended, feeding the spread of radical Islamic ideas among the disenchanted population. Bakiyev, 57, was a former prime minister before he became acting president after Akayev fled the country for Russia. Three months later, he got 89 percent of the vote in the country's freest election yet.

Kyrgyzstan still has the most vibrant civil society and the freest media in Central Asia, as well as the most democratic election laws. But the further liberalization Bakiyev promised has been stalled by paralyzing political disputes and claims from the opposition that he is corrupt and has backtracked on reform.

The latest political crisis started in December with the resignation of the prime minister, Felix Kulov, in a complex political maneuver that backfired.

Kulov's move essentially was meant to get Bakiyev out of a bind. The president had been forced by opposition pressure to sign constitutional amendments giving the parliament the power to form a government. By resigning, Kulov aimed to force the dissolution of the parliament in order to restore government-forming powers to Bakiyev.

Bakiyev indeed got back that power, without dissolving the parliament. He then made an apparent attempt to reinstate Kulov, who in 2005 had dropped his own presidential bid to support Bakiyev, but did not get the parliament's backing. Kulov, believing Bakiyev did not try hard enough to reinstate him as prime minister, turned vengeful and went into opposition. That emboldened another major opposition group led by Omurbek Tekebayev, a rival of Bakiyev's who resigned as the parliament speaker last year after suggesting that the president "go hang himself."

Now, Kulov and Tekebayev have given Bakiyev an ultimatum: Restore the constitutional reforms he reversed or call early presidential elections. Otherwise, they say they will start indefinite mass protests.

"It's back to the streets," said Michael Hall, Central Asia project director of the International Crisis Group think tank, about prospects of new unrest.

Edil Baisalov, leader of an advocacy group called For Democracy and Civil Society, said the opposition tactics of street revolution show that Kyrgyz politics is driven by factional interests, personal ambitions and revenge.

They should be "working with the population, working out a proper platform and waiting for the next scheduled election like a normal political party would do," he said. Street protest is "an easy way, but that is destructive for the country."