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Expert: Kyrgysztan could face civil war

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Europe Correspondent   |   April 9, 2010 at 1:43 PM   |   Comments

BERLIN, April 9 (UPI) -- Observers say they fear Kyrgyzstan could be plunged into a civil war after the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a coup.

The government led by the controversial Bakiyev is no more -- it was ousted Wednesday after two days of street fighting between police and opposition activists that left between 60 and 100 people dead and several hundred wounded.

A transition government, led by former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, has taken control of government facilities and state-run media in the capital Bishkek. Otunbayeva said the new leadership will remain in place for six months before new elections will be held.

Observers, however, warn that the country in the near future could experience further violence.

Michael Laubsch, a senior Central Asia expert from Germany, said there is "great risk" of a civil war breaking out.

"We have reports indicating that Bakiyev is still in the country, in the south near the border with Uzbekistan, where he mobilizes his supporters to possibly march toward Bishkek," Laubsch told United Press International in a telephone interview Friday. "The international community and the rowing parties inside Kyrgyzstan must prevent this. In the current situation, a civil war would be disastrous. It would lead to thousands of deaths and it wouldn't be over soon."

The United States is eager to prevent such an armed conflict. It has a key air base in the city of Manas, which is used to fly troops and equipment in and out of Afghanistan.

Critics have accused the United States of turning a blind eye on Bakiyev's lawless and repressive governing to keep the base in service.

Kyrgyzstan's opposition remains divided whether to keep the base or throw the Americans out. The latter would please Russia, which considers the former Soviet republic its key sphere of influence. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has vowed that Russia had nothing to do with the uprising, but the Kremlin was first to recognize the transition government.

Moscow said it sent 150 troops to Kyrgyzstan to protect the Russian air base there, yet Laubsch said he had reports indicating Russia deployed as many as 500 soldiers.

"I think they're in Kyrgyzstan not only to protect the Russian military presence but also to prevent further bloodshed between the rowing parties," he said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, currently chaired by Kyrgyzstan's neighbor Kazakhstan, is most likely able to stabilize the conflict, experts say.

The OSCE has sent a special Kazakh representative to Kyrgyzstan who will likely try to "bring both sides at the negotiation table," Laubsch said.

A country of 5 million located in the mountains of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries of the former Soviet Union.

Unlike its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan has no significant natural resources; more than half of the adult population is unemployed; and its political system has been marred by instability and corruption.

Bakiyev rose to power on the wings of the 2005 Tulip Revolution, but hopes for more democracy and stability soon faded when he began cracking down on the opposition and amassing riches as his population suffered.

Bakiyev now faces money laundering and corruption allegations that reach into the United States, Laubsch said.

"His finance network includes former U.S. Senators Bob Dole and Bennett Johnston," Laubsch said, adding that large amounts of money had been brought into foreign countries including the United States.

"I suspect that the U.S. Justice Department will, in cooperation with the transition government, freeze those accounts. And I expect a new Kyrgyz government to demand for the money to be returned."

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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