Violence Erupts in Kyrgyzstan


Truck set on fire during the April 2010 riots in Bishkek

Truck set on fire during the April 2010 Riots in Bishkek

The BBC has reported that at least 23 people have been killed and 300 injured in violence which has erupted in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan. It is not yet clear what forces are responsible for the violence.

Until recently Kyrgyzstan's head of government was President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who was forced to flee the country after riots erupted in April 2010.  Bakiyev's power base is largely in the southern area of Kyrgyzstan including Osh.

A recorded conversation between Bakiyev's son and Bakiyev's older brother was recently played on Kyrgyz national TV, where they discussed stirring unrest prior to the upcoming referendum to be held on the 27th of June.

The April 2010 riots were a response to alleged corruption and cronyism practiced by the Bakiyev administration.  The Manas Air Base was at the center of  these corruption claims.  This base is of great strategic importance to the US war in Afghanistan as it serves as the main hub for the supply of troops and equipment.

In February of 2009 the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan voted to close the Manas Air Base.  Shortly after the closure of the base, Kyrgyzstan announced a program of $2 billion in loans and $150 million in financial aid from Russia.

In June of 2009 the U.S. reached a new deal which was ratified by the Kyrgyz parliament and signed into law by Bakiyev.  Under this agreement the US would pay an increased rent for the base, increasing from $17.1 million to $60 million.  In addition, $117 million would go to the Kyrgyz government, $36 million would go to upgrades for the airport, $21 million for fighting drug trafficking and $20 million for economic development.  It was widely believed among the opposition that Bakiyev was using this money for his own personal enrichment.

Roza Otunbaeva, head of the interim government, criticised the U.S. for continuing its support of Bakiyev even after he was well known to be corrupt and anti-democratic.  However, she said that the government will renew the U.S. lease when it expires in July.

The Manas Airforce base has become more important as the U.S. continues to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan.  Troop levels are expected to increase from 50,000 to as many as 100,000 by the end of the year.  The importance has also been increased by security concerns which have lead to closure of the main land route, the Khyber Pass.

Words: Gavin Gleeson