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Change May Elude Kyrgyzstan

Entrenched Interests Could Blunt Effects of President's Ouster

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page A26

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- With a master's degree in economics, Gulzat Tosonova landed a job at an institution in line with her training, a commercial bank in the leafy capital of a country that once set out to make itself the Switzerland of Central Asia.

But the job was scrubbing floors. The salary was $50 a month. And the calloused palm Tosonova displayed with a look of deep indignation was a token of the righteous anger in Kyrgyzstan that toppled the president in just two hours March 24.

Kyrgyz men read the papers at a newsstand in the center of the capital, Bishkek. Many remain uncertain about the country's political future. (Vladimir Pirogov -- Reuters)

"You know, on $50 a month you can easily die," Tosonova said. "If you want to have a good job with a good salary, you should be a son or daughter of one of the corrupt class."

Yet a week after President Askar Akayev fled to Moscow, Tosonova, 30, said she was sticking with her own plan to relocate to the Russian capital, where friends promised she would find the support and opportunity Akayev's government never produced. Her determination to leave, even with the president gone, reflects the country's evolving views of the rebellion and its murky aftermath.

"I think this uprising and revolution did not change anything," Tosonova said. A moment later she added, "But it's too early to judge."

Tentative, conflicted and more than a little confused, the people of this stunningly scenic and stubbornly poor former Soviet republic draw wildly varied conclusions from the drama of a week ago -- perhaps because the events that followed Akayev's departure have been tentative and contradictory as well.

"On one hand, we're quite happy. But on the other hand, we're unhappy," said Talgat Suranaliev, dressed in a track suit on his way home the other day.

"The old power -- the corrupted people, at least many of them -- are gone now. But frankly, no significant changes have occurred. People are disappointed."

In the first hours after protesters swarmed into the White House, the presidential headquarters, the opposition seemed to be in firm control of the capital. The crowds milling expectantly in Bishkek's vast central plaza the morning after the uprising listened in respectful silence as a former prime minister, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, announced that opposition leaders had named him acting president.

Working beside him would be the country's most famous political prisoner, Felix Kulov, a charismatic former secret police official who had organized protests from his jail cell using a cell phone.

But after three days of backroom wrangling, the opposition announced that the parliament Akayev had hastily sworn in just before his departure would remain in power.

The parliament's election, which international observers said was flawed, was the spark that ignited the rebellion in the first place, spurring thousands into the streets to denounce candidates who many complained represented the corruption endemic in Akayev's government.

"They say the guy here threatened to fire people from the factories if they didn't vote for him," Asil Jamerchiav, 32, said about the winning candidate in the town of Delovodskoye, just west of Bishkek, where a street protest broke out after the vote. "Nothing's changed in the government."

Many critics stop short of such sweeping dismissal. They note that not only is the president gone, but so also is the idea that Akayev might preordain a successor in an election judged as fraudulent as the parliamentary contests.

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