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Kyrgyzstan: What next?

Acquaintances on the ground in Bishkek tell me the situation is unclear, unpredictable and unstable. Large groups of aggressive young men are roaming the streets, some armed, many drunk. Yesterday's overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev culminated in looting and rioting — just as, when Askar Akayev was toppled five years ago, Bishkek's central stores were ransacked. Alcohol is apparently a highly popular item among the looters. 

Kyrgyzstan's police are an ineffectual lot on a good day; now they seem to have disappeared. The "provisional government," led by sometimes opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva, now needs to prove it is truly in control. 

Bakiyev, who has not officially resigned, is reported to have absconded to his home base in the south, and where his support is still relatively strong. His government consisted primarily of his colleagues and cronies from his home region. It remains to be seen whether they rally around him and demand his restoration. Many have more than a political interest in returning him to power — some have also accrued considerable fortunes in the past years, and may see him as their only hope for keeping them. 

With Bakiyev installed in the south, the situation is shaping up to be possibly the north-south clash that pundits have been warning about for years. Personally I think this divide is often exaggerated. But the differences between the country's two halves in culture (the south is more Uzbek influenced) and clan structures are there to be exploited if someone wants to. Bakiyev was a notoriously ineffective president and he may not be up to putting together an uprising in the south. But there are those in his circle who may see this as their only chance to hold onto their lucre — or their lives — and they may do the work for him.