Rice: Kyrgyzstan Events May Be Good Thing

The upheaval in Kyrgyzstan could wind up a democratic success story if political change occurs without violence, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

It is too soon to know where the chaotic scene on the streets of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek is leading, Rice said.

“It doesn’t happen on Day 1,” Rice said. “This is a process that’s just beginning. We know where we want to go.”

The United States has cheered democratic movements in Ukraine, Lebanon and elsewhere, but it has not endorsed street demonstrations and the storming of Kyrgyz government buildings.

“If we can take events on the ground … encourage the various parties in Kyrgyzstan to move into a process that will then lead to the election of a government and move this process of democracy forward, it will have been a very good thing,” Rice said after a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis.

Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet republic that borders China. It is poor despite oil and natural gas resources. It has strategic importance because of its location bridging East and West. Both Russia and the United States have air bases in the country.

Rice said she discussed Kyrgyzstan with President Bush on Thursday. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe is leading international efforts to promote a peaceful outcome, she said.

“Our desire is for a process that will lead to a stable outcome in which elections can be held and where this can move forward,” Rice said. “Obviously, everyone should put aside violence. There is no place for violence in a process of this kind.”

The United States would not confirm media reports that Kyrgyzstan’s president has fled the country following street demonstrations, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cast doubt on those reports.

“The intelligence reports do not verify what you cited,” Rumsfeld answered when asked directly about reports that President Askar Akayev had fled.

Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the United States, Baktybek Abdrissaev, told a news conference at the National Press Club that Akayev is “in a safe place.”

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said he could not confirm anything about the whereabouts of Akayev and his entourage. The United States is not backing any opposition candidate, Ereli said.

“The future of Kyrgyzstan should be decided by the people of Kyrgyzstan, consistent with the principles of peaceful change, of dialogue and respect for the rule of law,” Ereli said.

The Central Asian nation of 5 million was the scene of disputed parliamentary elections in February. The current unrest stemmed from dissatisfaction with those elections.

The United States has had misgivings about Akayev’s democratic credentials for several years. He expanded his powers with an illegal referendum in 1996 and the OSCE called 2000 elections there invalid.

The parliament in power before the February elections was reconstituted and then met Thursday night to discuss keeping order in the nation and conducting a new presidential vote, perhaps as early as May or June.

Legislators in the upper house elected a former opposition lawmaker, Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, as interim president, but the lower chamber did not immediately approve the choice.

Kadyrbekov, a Communist lawmaker in the previous bicameral parliament, was disqualified by authorities from running in the disputed elections in February and early March. In February, before it had even gathered force, the uprising was dubbed the Tulip Revolution.

Rumsfeld, traveling in Central America, also said he did not believe U.S. forces in Kyrgyzstan would be harmed by the turmoil. There are roughly 1,000 U.S. troops at Manas air base outside of Bishkek.

At U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., a spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Nick Balice, said, “We’re obviously watching the situation closely,” but he would not say more about the level of U.S. concern.

The Kyrgyzstan government’s authority crumbled in the South over the past week, and on Thursday the opposition concentrated its forces on the capital. A rally that began with about 1,000 people picked up strength as unarmed demonstrators marched to the government compound.

Some carried yellow narcissus or stuck the flowers in breast pockets as a symbol of their peaceful ambitions.

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