02/23/2023, 09.46
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President Žaparov meets his predecessors in Dubai

by Vladimir Rozanskij

An effort at reconciliation between leaders who have fought each other. The thorny Bakiev case, convicted at home for abuse of power. In 30 years of independence, the country has had only one peaceful transition to power. Some believe that Biškek is moving towards an authoritarian drift.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - President Sadyr Žaparov's initiative has caused great surprise in Kyrgyzstan, as for the first time he brought together his five predecessors in Dubai. They are: Askar Akaev, Kurmanbek Bakiev, Roza Otunbaeva, Almazbek Atambaev and Sooronbai Žeenbekov. They have succeeded each other since 1991 after uprisings and coups, without any real democratic transition.

Žaparov commented on the meeting in a TV interview on 21 February with the state agency Kabar. Before the meeting in Dubai (which took place three days earlier) he had already met Atambaev and Žeenbekov, who had long fought each other and now 'have reconciled and forgiven each other'. He then wanted to extend the face-to-face meeting to the first three presidents, without immediately revealing that it would be a meeting of six, 'otherwise some of them would not have come'.

The current president wanted to reassure everyone present that 'there are no financial or political demands on my part', emphasising that none of them had interfered with his presidency. According to Žaparov, 'the time has come to put aside all the disagreements of the past', because if the leaders are not capable of it, their supporters and all the citizens of Kyrgyzstan are unlikely to do so. All the presidents eventually supported the initiative, and the meeting lasted over four hours.

Žaparov also explained the situation concerning Bakiev, who was sentenced in his home country in absentia and who should be arrested on his return to Kyrgyzstan, according to the Prosecutor General's Office. He lives in Belarus, and four times Minsk has denied his extradition. The president explained that 'everyone has to answer for his actions before God, history and the law', and if one wanted to prepare Bakiev's return by circumventing the laws 'we would not have organised the meeting in Dubai, but in Biškek'.

The decision to return is left to the conscience of the former president, who led the country from 2005 to 2010, coming to power with the 'tulip revolution' against the first post-Soviet president Akaev, only to leave it due to the uprisings in April 2010, when Kyrgyzstan came to the brink of civil war. Bakiev was accused of abuse of power after he proposed moving the capital from Biškek to a city in the south, an area he controlled, and eventually had to flee to Belarus.

According to Žaparov, the meeting was very positive, and he vows to summon the predecessors again in order to 'get all Kyrgyz politicians around the reconciliation table'. Atambaev, president from 2011 to 2017, and himself convicted after several riots, commented that 'the restoration of peace and unity in the country is absolutely necessary', although Bakiev's return to his homeland 'is another matter altogether'.

The first president Akaev, after all, had also suffered an arrest before fleeing to Russia, and Otunbaeva had only been in office for one year, between 2010 and 2011. Žaparov's predecessor, Žeenbekov, had succeeded Atambaev at the end of his term in 2017, the only time in 30 years, but had then had to relinquish the presidency in 2020 after the October riots, out of which the current president emerged, who had appointed himself premier and rode out the protests.

The proposal for historical reconciliation thus falls in the third year of the Žaparov presidency, which by Kyrgyzstan's standards is not a sure guarantee of stability, given that the reforms underway have raised several concerns. Some believe that the country is heading towards an authoritarian drift, but perhaps the unprecedented 'harmony of presidents' could help to bring about a peaceful, if not actually democratic, transition.

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