Rioters storm Kyrgyz parliament

By bne IntelliNews October 4, 2012

Clare Nuttall in Astana -

Around 1,000 rioters, led by nationalist MPs Sapar Zhaparov and Kamchibek Tashiyev, attempted to break into Kyrgyzstan's parliament on October 3, in what ministers call an attempt to overthrow the government. The protesters demanded the resignation of Kyrgyzstan's government and the nationalisation of the country's largest gold mine, Kumtor.

The group tried to scale the gates to the White House, where the parliament and government is located, with Tashiev - former leader of the opposition Ata-Zhurt party - the first to attempt the climb, Kabar reports. Police forced back the protesters with dogs and smoke bombs. According to the Ministry of Health, ten demonstrators have received treatment for injuries, including three with gunshot wounds.

Speaking after the protest was dispersed, Interior Minister Zarylbek Rysaliyev said those responsible for the riot would be brought to justice. The leaders of the protest are expected to face charges of trying to overthrow the government.

Current Ata-Zhurt party leader Zhaparov has been at the forefront of attempts to have Kumtor - operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold and accounting for around 12% of GDP - nationalised. He failed to get that plan approved by parliament in a vote on June 27, however, MPs did agree to back a proposal to renegotiate the 2009 privatisation agreement.

Amid an atmosphere of growing resource nationalism in Kyrgyzstan, Zhaparov has accused Centerra of tax evasion and polluting the environment surrounding the mine. Meanwhile, the MP is himself is the target of a criminal fraud probe launched by the Kyrgyz prosecutor in September 2012.

While Kyrgyzstan, which has the most open political climate in Central Asia, has seen frequent demonstrations in recent months, these are the most serious events in more than a year. Ata-Zhurt is the largest party represented in the parliament, and a major political force. Many of its members are former supporters of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Kyrgyzstan's former president, who was ousted in the April 2010 revolution.

The party's main support base is in south Kyrgyzstan, where there are strong divisions along ethnic lines. Long-standing tensions between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations have been a breeding ground for nationalism, and erupted into violence in four days of fighting in June 2010.

Despite its weight in parliament however, the party has been excluded from the last two parliamentary coalitions because of its lack of allies. Ata-Zhurt is also opposed to the constitution adopted after the 2010 revolution, which turned Kyrgyzstan from a presidential to a parliamentary system.

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