I Just Kyrgystan't Believe it

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t get much press unless they start ripping the place apart and, as you’ll have noticed, that’s what they’re doing right now.

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09 April 2010, 1:06pm

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t get much press unless they start ripping the place apart and, as you’ll have noticed, that’s what they’re doing right now. I’m living in the capital at the moment, where every revolutionary, thug, policeman and journalist seems to have congregated.

Five years ago, protesters stormed the government buildings in Jalal-Abad in the south of Kyrgyzstan, which began the process towards the relatively quiet Tulip Revolution, which installed Kurmanbek Bakiev into power. Today the Kyrgyz people are revolting again. Dismayed by the ongoing corruption, the unemployment, rises in taxation, and by Bakiev turning the government into his own family business, people have decided it’s time he disappeared.

On the 7th protesters marched into the centre of the capital Bishkek to demonstrate outside of the main government building, the White House, as well as in the main square, Ala-too. It soon became very violent. We’ve been staying in a flat just round the corner. We can hear gunfire and see men charging up the main road towards the rich areas, presumably to loot the houses. Our neighbours keep phoning to check we have enough food and to remind us not to leave our flat. We drink a lot of tea, play cards, and watch the news, attempting to translate Kyrgyz and Russian.

It was at around 1pm on the 7th that the first gunshots were fired. People threw stones and set fire to cars and trucks, driving them into the main gates of the White House, in an attempt to blow them up. Police countered with tear gas and stun guns were first used to disperse crowds, which proved ineffective. Some of the protesters were armed with Kalashnikovs, bazookas and hand-grenades and that night they got past the snipers and riot police and finally stormed the White House.

Yesterday morning, the streets were relatively calm, and though the consulate were telling us not to go out, it seemed fine. It was chaotic but exhilarating. Damage from the night´s looting was evident in the gutted shops and smashed windows though. The burnt remains of a tax office and the city’s main police station were still smoking.

We managed to get inside the White House, where portraits of the government that once decorated the entrance to the building, were smashed on the floor, covered in glass.

People were ripping the place apart, looting the palace. We nearly managed to nick a book of Bakiev´s own poetry, but a guy snatched it from us and pushed us outside into a mess of papers, books, and furniture that were being thrown from the building. Someone was waving an anti-Semitic flag from the window.

A boy of around eight stood looking important with a fire extinguisher and groups of men gathered jovially. We met with one man who, with a grin, forced us to take a picture of his friend in front of the palace waving a flag. He told me two of his friends had died, but in true Kyrgyz spirit, seemed to have accepted this.

About 75 people have died already, but people seem to think it’ll calm down now. Today and Saturday have been declared national days of mourning and most of the violence now seems to be coming from pissed young men without a political agenda. Volunteer peacekeepers have sprung up to keep the peace at night and lots of tanks have arrived, which would suggest that order is being resumed.

Currently Bakiev is hiding in the south of the country trying to drum up support to protect his position. The opposition seem pretty confident at the moment and are drawing up the new constitution as we speak, but right now a lot of people are worried that he’s going to come back to fight.


PHOTOS:  TIM HARFORD-CROSS

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