Nationalists raising the temperature in Kyrgyzstan

By bne IntelliNews November 27, 2013

bne -

While pausing for talks on November 26, protestors threatened to continue the action that has been ongoing across Kyrgyzstan for the best part of a week in support of a nationalist politician arrested on corruption charges. Eyeing the delicate investment situation, the activists also put the spotlight back on the Kumtor mine.

Following the arrest of opposition MP Akhmatbek Keldibekov - a senior member of the nationalist Ata-Zhurt party - supporters raced to demonstrate, blocking the main highway between Osh and Irkeshtam, in the party's stronghold in the south of the country. The unrest over the detention of the former parliament speaker has also spread to the prison system in recent days.

The blockade of the road was lifted on November 26 following discussions between government officials and protest organisers the previous evening. However, the activists threatened that unless Keldibekov is released within three days, the protest will resume.

Meanwhile, the nationalist opposition is forging ahead with other actions challenging the government. Plans for a rally in Kyzyl-Suu, near Kyrgyzstan's largest gold mine Kumtor, were announced on November 26.

Work at the mine, which is responsible for a huge slice of GDP, has been slowed in recent months due to negotiations between Toronto-listed Centerra - which holds 68% - and Bishkek over adjusting ownership in the project. Under pressure from rising resource nationalism - which has been seen across Central Asia - the government has been trying to thrash out a deal that parliament will accept without alarming foreign investment further.

Despite an overwhelming defeat of the latest proposals in parliament earlier this month, President Almasbek Atambayev suggested on November 21 that it is unrealistic to expect Centerra to hand Bishkek more than 50% of Kumtor. He claimed that calls for a minimum of 67%, or even nationalization, show parliament has made the issue political.

That fight back has also helped to stir the nationalist camp back into action. The organisers claim that the rally will demand the nationalisation of Kumtor, as well as seeking to raise other issues related to the plant. At the same time, Ata-Zhurt has several times been accused by the Kyrgyz authorities of stirring up protests around the mine for its own political ends.

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz prisons service announced on November 26 that prisoners at Bishkek detention facility No.1 have launched a hunger strike. The strike is believed to have been ordered by mafia bosses to protest against Keldibekov's arrest, local newswire claims.

Keldibekov was detained on November 20, accused of being involved in the embezzlement of KGS40m ($830,000) of state funds. He served as parliament speaker in 2010-11. However, he announced his resignation at an extraordinary parliamentary session after a government commission confirmed his links to organised criminal groups. The leader of Ata-Zhurt, Kamchybek Tashiev, described Keldibekov's arrest as "political oppression."

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