Vol. 5 Num 295 Sat. March 26, 2005  

Putin loses another ally in uprising
Ex-Soviet dominions go down

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost another ally in the uprising in Kyrgyzstan, the latest ex-Soviet government brought down by people power after Georgia and Ukraine, press commentators said yesterday.

"Putin is losing his mates," said the French daily Liberation after the mostly peaceful ouster of President Askar Akayev by the masses in Bishkek in fast-moving events Thursday.

"A domino effect in Moscow's backyard," was how Austria's Die Presse described the uprising which followed the change of government in Georgia in late 2003 and Ukraine's Orange Revolution at the end of last year.

The Russian president on Friday blasted as "illegitimate" the change of power in Kyrgyzstan, where parliament appointed opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev acting head of state.

Bakiyev immediately announced plans for fresh elections in June following the Kyrgyz uprising, which like in its fellow ex-Soviet states was triggered by contested elections.

In Spain, the El Pais daily agreed that the events in Bishkek, like those in Tbilisi and Kiev before them were "a serious warning to Putin."

"The democratic tide which swept first through Georgia and more recently in Ukraine seems able to reach to the furthest corners of the former Soviet Union," said the centre-left newspaper.

The domino metaphor was used by many newspapers, including in Britain where the Independent commented that "Russia and the US have already reached an apparently amicable agreement to share influence."

But the Times voiced another concern -- the threat that Islamicist movements could exploit the political uncertainty.

"Heartening though it is to see dictators overthrown and repression challenged," no-one should underestimate the risk that "Islamist extremists ... will exploit the power vacuum," it said.

The Daily Telegraph struck a more positive note, welcoming the fact that "the strengthening of Kyrgyz democracy will powerfully affect a region characterised by authoritarian leaders."

The question of which ex-Soviet states will be next was raised by Italy's daily La Repubblica.

It cited Harvard expert Marshall Goldman as asking: "What could prevent opposition groups in neighbouring Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan doing the same, given that as regards democracy their situation is even worse?"

"The truth is that democracy is a contagious disease," he said.

Liberation echoed the view in similar terms.

"The ease with which (the Kyrgyz president) was toppled is a clear warning to all neighbouring dictators who try to save themselves from this contagious democracy."

Czech daily Lidove Noviny commented that the domino-like collapse of governments of the last 18 months could easily have been predicted.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev holds up a fist in front of the parliament building in Bishkek yesterday after Kyrgyz deputies appointed him as both acting president and prime minister, after the chaotic protests ousted the Central Asian nation's regime. PHOTO: AFP