Neighbours counting on a peaceful Kyrgyzstan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2005, 12:00am

The revolution in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan has been sudden and swift. Unfortunately, it has also been accompanied by violence. Stability now depends on whether former opposition leaders - suddenly swept to power - can restore law and order. The situation is tense and uncertain.

The turbulent events which developed rapidly last week have understandably caused other Central Asian governments concern. Their worries are shared by China, Russia and the United States.

Kyrgyzstan has a history of ethnic strife, is subject to Islamist influences, and lies on one of the world's main drug-trafficking routes. It also hosts US and Russian air bases. This is a part of the world where instability could easily have wider repercussions. The need to restore order is therefore very important.

If this can be achieved, the uprising will give fresh hope to the people of this poor, mountainous nation.

It began with protests in the south, which spread to the capital Bishkek in the north last week. They grew in size and led to the storming of buildings where the president, parliament and government are based.

President Askar Akayev, who has ruled the country for almost 15 years, has fled - but claims his absence is only temporary. Meanwhile, the opposition have put a new interim government in place and promise fresh elections.

This is the third revolution in two years in former Soviet states. It follows the peaceful uprisings in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last year. All three involved disputed election results.

A parliamentary election held earlier this year in Kyrgyzstan led to the virtual exclusion of opposition politicians. Some were barred from competing and the poll was apparently rigged. This was the spark for the uprising.

A court ruling following the seizure of power annulled the results of that election and declared the previous parliament to be legitimate. The new interim government has pledged to maintain unity and to restore order. But it faces a big challenge.

The opposition is fragmented and its legality questionable. Most of the opposition leaders have, however, held government positions in the past.

They have the support of the people - for now. Kyrgyzstan was once seen as one of the most democratic states to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Mr Akayev was regarded as a relatively liberal leader. But he became increasingly authoritarian, locking up opponents and cracking down on dissent. The election of his son and daughter in the disputed polls appears to have been the final straw for his frustrated people.

The revolution has created a chaotic situation which will not be easy to resolve. But the sooner peace and order are restored the better - for Kyrgyzstan, its neighbours, and the world.