April 16, 2010 / 5:24 PM / 9 years ago

Relief, peace in Kyrgyz south after president leaves

OSH, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Timur, a 33-year-old actor, works in the theater where Kyrgyzstan’s president made a last-ditch attempt to rally supporters of his ousted government.

No sooner had Kurmanbek Bakiyev started to speak than a crowd of opponents moved toward the theater. Bodyguards fired two bursts from their Kalashnikov rifles into the air and the president fled the scene in his black jeep.

Osh could have been the flashpoint that tipped Kyrgyzstan into civil war, but within 24 hours Bakiyev had left the country and resigned, his five-year reign over Kyrgyzstan at an end.

“Five years ago, I believed it would all get better,” said Timur, who gave only his first name.

“It only got worse for me and my family. We don’t have enough money to pay our electricity bills or buy clothes.”

Kyrgyzstan’s second city lies in the Ferghana valley, a melting pot of ethnic tension in the heart of Central Asia that was the scene of violent clashes two decades ago.

Many residents of Osh and neighboring Jalalabad, Bakiyev’s home region, had feared a repeat. A crowd of 2,000 ethnic Uzbek opponents of Bakiyev were upstaged by the president’s supporters on Wednesday as tensions rose on the streets.

On Friday, all was peaceful in Osh. Ethnic Uzbeks in embroidered skull caps and Kyrgyz in traditional white felt hats left the city’s ancient mosque after praying together.

“I prayed for a better future for our nation,” said a 48-year-old unemployed street trader, who declined to give his name. “There should always be hope. One cannot live without hope, a hope for friendship and harmony.”

NEW LEADER

Bakiyev attempted to rally support in his native south after fleeing the capital in an uprising on April 7, during which his troops opened fire on demonstrators. At least 84 people died and 1,600 more were injured in the violence.

Kyrgyzstan, which hosts U.S. and Russian air bases, has installed a new interim government led by Roza Otunbayeva, who supported Bakiyev’s rise to power in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution” before accusing her former ally of widespread corruption.

A third of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.3 million people live below the poverty line and the country relies on remittances from the 800,000 Kyrgyz living in Russia for around 40 percent of its gross domestic product. A gold mine supplies another 10 percent.

“There must be changes for the better, but it is up to ordinary people to bring them about,” said Mamatkarim Isakov, 57, the deputy head of a Bishkek-based construction company.

“When everybody works in one creative endeavor, things will only get better,” he said.

For Timur, the future is far from clear. As Otunbayev’s government engages with the United States, Russia and other world powers, he wonders only how things at home might change.

“It is a real puzzle. Only Allah knows for sure,” he said outside the mosque. “As for these opposition members, I think I trust them only 50 percent.”

Writing by Robin Paxton

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