11/09/2022, 09.42
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Žaparov represses those who oppose exchanging territory with Uzbekistan

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Protests over the cession of the Kempir-Abad reservoir to the Uzbeks. The Kyrgyz president wants to close a front to focus on the border dispute with Tajikistan. Activists accuse him of using the nationalist card to silence opponents. Also in the crosshairs of critics for cases of corruption.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The issue of the cession to Uzbekistan of the strategic Kempir-Abad reservoir near Oš, which has aroused many protests in Kyrgyzstan over the past month, has generated a very heavy climate that seemed to have been overcome in a country that has always been plagued by various social turbulences.

President Sadyr Žaparov wants to put a brake on nationalist urges, which are in fact the very ones that had hoisted him to power in January 2021, using even more radical methods than his predecessors.

The persecution of activists who oppose the border cessions is turning day by day into a campaign to oppress political opponents and the free press, with the risk of throwing Kyrgyz society into chaos once again. In recent weeks, the authorities have arrested 26 people, who will remain in prison for at least two months, and targeted several media outlets.

These measures provoked a large protest demonstration on 24 October in Biškek and Oš to demand the release of political prisoners and freedom of speech for journalists, and to shed light on the Kempir-Abad agreement.

As Temur Umarov, a collaborator of the Carnegie Fund, confirms to Azattyk, 'it is clear that Kyrgyzstan is becoming an increasingly authoritarian country, and all of Žaparov's decisions in both domestic and foreign policy seem to be aimed only at strengthening his power as much as possible'.

Even the border agreement with Uzbekistan, announced in early October, is an incendiary card in the hands of the president, who had himself spent three years in prison before becoming the idol of the crowds.

Žaparov's supporters took him to the summits by insisting on two fundamental demands: the right to land ownership and opposing foreign claims on Kyrgyzstan's resources. On the other hand, the agreement signed on 3 November with the Uzbeks was intended to ensure the normalisation of relations with Tashkent, against the backdrop of the border conflict with Tajikistan, and it is now a question of reconciling this demand with popular protests.

The government insists on defending the agreement, claiming that it is actually very advantageous for Kyrgyzstan, which in exchange for the basin gets 15 thousand square kilometres of territory hitherto controlled by the Uzbeks. The waters of Kempir-Abad will be managed jointly, and both countries will have access to them for agricultural and social uses.

The press continues to demand the publication of all documents, and is lashing out at the president's main aide, the head of the National Security Committee (Gknb) Kamčybek Tašiev, who is guilty of obscurely managing the entire operation.

The social conflict is worsening as the economic crisis deepens, especially in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the growing tensions with Moscow, also due to the conflict with Tajikistan in September, which claimed a hundred lives.

Žaparov has relaunched his role as defender of Kyrgyz sovereignty, achieving a consensus of just under 80%, believing with this that he can act in an increasingly unscrupulous and authoritarian manner.

Now, however, the president's difficulty in facing all challenges together is increasingly evident, as many commentators observe, also recalling the scandals related to the destination of profits from the Kumtor gold mine. A court recently exonerated journalist Bolot Temirov, who was arrested in January after accusing Tashiev of distributing state contract money to his family and accusing the Gknb of spreading false dossiers. Now the General Prosecutor's Office has appealed the case against the court, and the matter risks becoming a further trap for Žaparov himself.

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