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KAZAKHSTAN EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR UKRAINIAN GAS PROPOSAL. Kazakh Prime Minister Akhmetov told journalists in Astana on 24 March that the Kazakh government supports Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's proposal, voiced during a visit to Turkmenistan earlier this week, that Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine should establish a consortium to export gas via Kazakhstan and Russia, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). "We think this project has good potential," Akhmetov commented, adding that "the export of Kazakh gas beyond the CIS is of major economic interest to Kazakhstan." Akhmetov said the proposal will be discussed in depth during a visit to Kazakhstan next month by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and that a decision will probably be made by the end of April. LF

As the situation in Kyrgyzstan slowly stabilizes, four key issues have already emerged to frame subsequent events -- stability, the leadership of the opposition, the opposition's political program, and the effect of Kyrgyzstan's revolutionary change on its Central Asian neighbors.

As a new government emerges, its most urgent task is to establish control over the country and to prevent any slide into disorder. While the takeover of government buildings in Bishkek occurred after scuffles that left several dozens injured, no confirmed fatalities were reported, as was the case with the previous seizure of provincial administrative offices in Jalal-Abad and Osh.

Nevertheless, the extent of opposition leaders' control over the crowd was not entirely clear. According to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Kurmanbek Bakiev, leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told protestors after the takeover: "We didn't have the slightest idea [that things would turn out this way]. Just today in the morning we had no idea that people would take the White House."

As night fell in Bishkek on 24 March, looters took to the streets, ransacking shopping centers (many of which belonged to members of the Akaev family) and targeting bank machines and currency-exchange points. The ensuing mayhem claimed three lives, reported. Opposition leaders have delivered televised calls for restraint and promised to restore order, and the first crucial test the former opposition faces as it assumes the duties of power is to ensure that its calls are heeded and its promise kept.

The second issue involves the formation of a new government. At an emergency session late on 24 March, lawmakers from the previous parliament -- the newly elected parliament having lost its powers after the Supreme Court revoked its mandate -- selected Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, an opposition candidate in recent parliamentary elections whose disqualification sparked protests, to be acting head of state. But on 25 March, parliament named Former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan and leader of the opposition's Coordinating Council of Popular Unity, acting president and prime minister, reported.

Bakiev lost no time proposing a provisional government. It included a number of prominent opposition figures, such as Roza Otunbaeva, acting minister of foreign affairs; Adakhan Madumarov, acting deputy prime minister; Ishengul Boljurova, acting minister of education; and Azimbek Beknazarov, acting prosecutor-general. With the latest reports indicating that Bakiev, as acting president, has the right to issue decrees, it appears that the provisional government will not require parliamentary approval. As it sets about the first-order task of restoring order, the fragmented former opposition will have ample opportunity to show that they can work together effectively.

Bakiev, who has increasingly taken on the mantle of opposition leader during recent protests, also announced on 25 March that presidential elections will take place in three months, in accordance with the constitution, RIA-Novosti reported. Bakiev himself will likely be the leading contender for the presidency, but former Vice President and long-time opposition figure Feliks Kulov's sudden release from prison on 24 March introduces another heavyweight into the political equation. Although Kulov has already said that he does not intend to run for president, the rapidly changing situation precludes any certainty on this count.

Once the new government is in place, its members will face a dilemma familiar to all political figures who have defined themselves in opposition to an entrenched regime. When the regime's hold on power is firm enough to stymie real political competition, the out-of-power opposition's program inexorably devolves to a rejection of the status quo. Now that the status quo has changed so suddenly and so radically, the opposition, left to its own devices without the foe against which it has framed itself for so long, faces the task of fashioning concrete policies to govern a country that faces in pressing social, economic, and political problems.

Finally, while it is difficult to gauge the regional implications of events in progress, 24 March in Kyrgyzstan is already setting in motion a regional paradigm shift. Even after momentous changes in Georgia and Ukraine brought to light unexpected possibilities in post-Soviet politics, Central Asia seemed immune to spontaneous popular uprisings. Kyrgyzstan now finds itself at the beginning of a road paved with uncertainties, but it has at least demonstrated the power of unexpected possibilities in a region where they have too long been denied.

...AS DO UKRAINIAN POLITICAL FIGURES. Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of the Regions and the loser of the 2004 presidential election, told Interfax on 24 March that the "scenario in Kyrgyzstan was similar to that in other post-Soviet states," except that the Ukrainian revolution was nonviolent. "The election observers from the CIS came to one conclusion [in Kyrgyzstan] and those from the OSCE came to a different one, and in this way duplicated the Ukrainian example," Yanukovych told Interfax. Communist leader Petro Symonenko told Interfax on 24 March that in Kyrgyzstan, as in other post-Communist countries, "authoritarian regimes allowed for the enrichment of small segments of society, enraging many citizens." Symonenko blamed the United States for the unrest in Central Asia. "I am convinced that the hand of the Americans is visible in Kyrgyzstan. The Americans are defining their strategic interests and surrounding Russia as if it were a bear caught in a trap, and placing little flags denoting that this geopolitical territory belongs to them," he said. RK

UKRAINE ACCUSES RUSSIA OVER NAVAL INCIDENT. Ukrainian officials have lashed out at Russia in connection with an incident in the vicinity of the Crimean town of Feodosia on the evening of 23 March when a Russian landing vessel assigned to the Russian Black Sea fleet landed 142 assault troops during a training exercise without informing the Ukrainian authorities beforehand. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk told the Ukrainian television station Channel 5 on 24 March that the incident constituted a serious violation by Russia of the lease agreement regulating the activities of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. He added that Ukraine has often stressed that the Russian fleet should not use Ukrainian territory for any training purposes. Ukrainian Security Service head Oleksander Turchinov told Ukrainian television on 24 March that the stationing of the Russian Black Sea fleet on Ukrainian territory runs counter to Ukrainian national interests. RK