Kyrgyz Unrest Brings Up Memories Of 2005

The opposition seized Kyrgyz government headquarters following clashes between protesters and security forces in which 68 people were killed. Looting also was reported. Mariya Rasner, country director for Internews, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists, tells Steve Inskeep the clashes were similar to the so-called "Tulip Revolution" five years ago.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now let's turn to Mariya Rasner. She's country director in Kyrgyzstan for Internews, which is a nonprofit organization that trains journalists worldwide. She's also in the capital city, Bishkek. Welcome to the program.

Ms. MARIYA RASNER (Internews): Yes, hi. Thank you.

INSKEEP: We just heard David Greene talk about a day and a night of protests and fires. What's it been like to live through that?

Ms. RASNER: Well, it was relatively scary, I would say. I was at home. I live in the center of Bishkek, and I was watching a lot of looters carrying all sorts of things - couches, microwaves, you name it - from nearby stores. So, from that point of view, local people are very much disappointed that this is sort of their repetition of 2005, but no lessons were learned from that, that, you know, takeover of power couldn't happen without the looting taking place. And, of course, another defense is the number of people being killed.

INSKEEP: You say a repetition of 2005. That's when there was another set of protests that also led to a change in government. Correct?

Ms. RASNER: Exactly, yeah. That's known as the Tulip Revolution. People say -well, they've been saying a long time ago that it wasn't very much of a revolution, but a coup. And it remains to be seen whether the change of power that happened yesterday is the revolution of coup, you know, the defense being that - how the new government will act.

INSKEEP: What was this revolution about?

Ms. RASNER: Well, the president has just kind of overstepped his - not so much authority, but the level to which the general public was willing to tolerate some of his actions. He raised the payments for gas, electricity, water - all the basic municipal and social tariffs that people have to pay on a regular basis. But the fact that everybody - it didn't matter whether you were poor or rich or old or young. You know, pensioners had to pay this. The young had to pay this, the students, the regular working people. And that angers a lot of people, because he really did step overboard with all of these unpopular measures.

INSKEEP: Now the interim government leader, an opposition leader, Roza Otunbayeva, the woman that David Greene referred to as apparently sending messages on Twitter, is in charge. This is somebody who is - was an ally of the former president in years past. Who is she, exactly?

Ms. RASNER: Well, she's a former minister of foreign affairs, so she's not new to politics at all. There are a lot of people in the opposition - actually, pretty much all of them - that were at one point aligned with Bakiyev when he took power in 2005. They were with him against the previous president, who was very unpopular at that time. But as time went on and Bakiyev sort of showed the real case of his regime, they split. And these leaders of the opposition, they went a different way.

INSKEEP: You know, of course, one question for the United States is whether the United States is going to be able to continue using an airbase in Kyrgyzstan to supply troops in Afghanistan. And the BBC actually interviewed the new leader, Roza Otunbayeva, and asked that very question: Will the United States still have access to that airbase? She said nothing will change very quickly, but we'll start to right those issues in the near future - the implication seeming to be that she might like a different relationship with the United States.

Ms. RASNER: You know, I don't think so. To be honest with you, this is a very small country, and they need all the friends we can get. They don't have the natural resources that their neighbors in Afghanistan have. They don't have much of anything. So if they can play a clever game having both the U.S. and Russia as friends, then that would be the smartest thing they could do. I don't see them throwing out the Manas Airbase, because it's of strategic importance to them, as well as to the United States.

INSKEEP: Mariya Rasner is Kyrgyzstan country director for Internews, an organization that trains journalists. Thanks very much.

Ms. RASNER: Thanks.

INSKEEP: And like the interim leader of Kyrgyzstan, MORNING EDITION is on Twitter. You can follow us, get news updates, and a lot more @MORNING EDITION or @NPRInskeep.

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