A failed attempt to assassinate Kyrgyz security council secretary Misir Ashirkulov has prompted the government to plan a crackdown on public protests in the country.
One day after the assassination attempt on September 6, the government put together a proposal that would ban rallies, demonstrations and street protests for a period of three months.
Critics argue that the attempt on Ashirkulov’s life may have been staged, and that the proposed law is really designed to prevent residents from the Aksy district marching on the capital to demand the resignation of President Askar Akaev.
Parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov told IWPR that around two thousand people had reached the town of Kara-Kul by September 9 en route to Bishkek, bolstered by another thousand people from villages across the Aksy district.
Official sources claimed the marchers numbered only 430. Deputy Adakhaan Madumarov said the government clearly wanted to stop the march from reaching the capital.
The attack on Misir Ashirkulov, who oversees the defence and interior ministries, occurred as he arrived home late at night. As he got out of his car, two unknown assailants tossed grenades at him. “He lost a lot of blood, but he is out of immediate danger,” presidential public relations adviser Bolot Januzakov told a press conference on September 7.
“This act of terrorism is a direct threat to peace and stability in the republic. There is no doubt that the attempt was politically motivated,” he continued, adding that the attack could have been the work of an international extremist organisation.
Some analysts in Kyrgyzstan question the official version of events, pointing out that the attack could have been intended to scare Ashirkulov, who is close to the president’s family. “Why throw grenades at close range, when it could have been done quietly using an ordinary hunting weapon?” asked defence journalist Alexander Kim.
Others claim that the attack could have come from within the political establishment. “Ashirkulov is a close friend of Akaev and over the years has managed to ostracise anyone who tried to get close to the president. He wants to be the only permanent member of the president’s entourage,” said another deputy who did not want to be named.
Some commentators claim that the assassination attempt has given the authorities an excuse to clampdown on the Islamist group Hizbt-ut Tahrir, which could in turn divert attention away from the question of who was really behind the attack.
A large number of deputies have warned that any attempt to outlaw demonstrations will prove unpopular with the public.
Deputy Omurbek Tekebaev told IWPR that such a move would also violate the Kyrgyz constitution, forcing the president to declare a state of emergency in order to pass the law.
However, the government is sticking to its guns. “The proposed law was initiated to safeguard the rights and freedoms of citizens and protect the law, social order and internal security in the republic,” said vice premier Kurmanbek Osmonov.
How the people of Aksy will respond to this attempt to “safeguard their freedom” remains to be seen.
Kubat Otorbaev is an independent journalist in Bishkek. This article originally appeared in Reporting Central Asia, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, http://www.iwpr.net/.