President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan – who came to power in the Tulip Revolution in 2005 – appears to have been ousted by massive protests that began on Tuesday in the provincial center of Talas and have since spread across the country.
According to a blog on the New York Times, a local analyst said the protests are fueled by “widespread anger at the consequences of an economic crisis whose end is not yet in sight, at the dramatic and simultaneous price rises for electricity and mobile calls, and at the sell-off of state enterprises and companies of strategic importance.”
One opposition leader, in the video above, said the demonstrations were also sparked by Bakiyev’s decision to allow the US to keep its military base outside the capital, after having vowed to close it.
While government security forces opened fire with live ammunition on protesters, those opposing the government were at least at times violent in response. Footage and images from the protests show vehicles on fire, many demonstrators throwing things at the riot police and some armed with their own guns. In general, the scenes on the streets look extremely chaotic.
The Kyrgyz health ministry says that at least 40 people have been killed and more than 400 wounded in the clashes. The opposition, on the other hand, claim that at least 100 have died.
That said, without being there it’s impossible to determine to what extent the wider movement was nonviolent. Perhaps the vast majority of those present did maintain nonviolent discipline or approached the riot police peacefully, but the footage that has been released thus far doesn’t support such a claim.
Whether the recent rise in utility prices is tied to the privatization of state-owned industries isn’t evident from the articles I’ve read. But the fact that the protests were at least in part a response to neo-liberal economic policies pursued by Bishkek is telling.
As I have written about on this site, many recent victories for nonviolent movements have been reversed or diluted after the governments that they help install enact economic policies that end up worsening the plight of the poor.