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It’s not easy ousting a Kyrgyz leader and his kin

The deposed president of Kyrgyzstan has refused to go quietly until the safety of his family is guaranteed. But Kurmanbek Bakiyev's family is big  and the new government is offering no guarantees.
Image: Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Kyrgyzstan's deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev walks prior to a news conference in the courtyard of his family home, in the village of Teyit, in the Jalal-Abad region, southern Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday.Sergei Grits / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The deposed president of Kyrgyzstan has refused to go quietly until the safety of his family is guaranteed. But Kurmanbek Bakiyev's family includes two sons, five brothers and his brothers' many sons — members of a clan that has grown wealthy and powerful under his rule — and the new government says it will offer them no guarantees.

The stalemate prolongs the uncertainty in the Central Asian nation, where the United States has an air base that is key to military operations against the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan.

It also poses a dilemma for the new interim leaders. While anxious to consolidate their control, they were brought to power last week on the back of violent protests fed by anger over corruption permeating the Bakiyev clan and they are under pressure to bring Bakiyev and other members of the clan to justice.

One of Bakiyev's brothers, who headed the state security guard service, is accused of ordering his men to open fire on the protesters who stormed the main government building on April 7. At least 83 people were killed.

Holed up in Teyit
Bakiyev and other members of his family fled the capital and are now holed up in Teyit, their home village in the southern Jalal-Abad region. Bakiyev insisted Wednesday that he would not consider resigning before his security and the safety of his family are guaranteed, although his bargaining position is looking weak.

Hawkish members of the interim government have hinted darkly that they are set to mount an operation for Bakiyev's arrest, while interim leader Roza Otunbayeva has offered to guarantee the deposed president's safety if he steps down and leaves the country. But she said firmly on Wednesday that protection for "a dozen of his relatives" was impossible.

Otunbayeva also held out the prospect of talks for the first time. "We will see. We would have to determine a format for such a meeting," she said after meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake.

Widespread anger about nepotism and the overwhelming influence of the Bakiyev family was instrumental to their downfall.

"Why in the 21st century should we agree to live under medieval laws, whereby we all serve the king and his family," said Alisher Erkinbayev, a 40-year-old engineer in Bishkek.

Some of the Bakiyev brothers paced around the courtyard of the family compound Wednesday, chatting quietly to confidantes, giving interviews and feverishly regimenting the throngs of visitors coming in and out of the house.

Zhanybek Bakiyev, 52, the brother accused of ordering the shooting, had donned camouflage fatigues, eschewing the elegant suits and shirts he had worn since his flight to Teyit. He was dismissive of suggestions that the interim government should provide him security.

"Personally, I don't need their guarantees," he told The Associated Press. "I can say as a lawyer that all my actions, and those of my subordinates, were lawful."

Defensive measure?
Bakiyev and his supporters insist the protesters were first to shoot, and the return of fire by guarding troops was a necessary defensive measure.

Zhanybek Bakiyev's rise was meteoric under his eldest brother's rule. After Kurmanbek Bakiyev became president in 2005 on the crest of the Tulip Revolution, he was appointed head of the Jalal-Abad regional police force and moved speedily through a series of jobs in the country's security structures.

His record was tainted in late 2006, when he resigned from his post as deputy head of the security services after his agency's alleged involvement in a blackmail plot against prominent opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev, who was held by police in the Warsaw airport after planted heroin was found in his luggage.

Always clean-shaven and eloquent, Zhanybek Bakiyev could not be more different from Akhmat Bakiyev, a gruff businessman and powerbroker in the Jalal-Abad region who vowed that any attempt to seize the ousted president would be met with resistance.

"We are in full combat readiness," Akhmat Bakiyev said, speaking in short, clipped sentences. "If they shoot, I'll start shooting. I'm ready for anything. I'm not afraid of them. If they shoot, I'll be the first to shoot them all."

The youngest, Marat Bakiyev, served until last week as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany, while the next youngest, Adil Bakiyev, was Kyrgyzstan's trade envoy in China.

Publicity-shy businessman
Perhaps none of the brothers is quite as intriguing as the 60-year-old Kurmanbek Bakiyev's two sons, however.

Maxim Bakiyev — once widely touted as a likely to succeed his father as president — is a notoriously publicity-shy businessman in his early 30s and a much gossiped-about figure in Kyrgyzstan.

Much of the rage directed at the Bakiyev family in the streets of Bishkek last week was addressed in particular at Maxim Bakiyev, who is perceived as having enriched himself at the expense of ordinary Kyrgyz people. In addition to his business interests, he headed the agency overseeing foreign investment.

He also is known to have multiple interests in Latvia, another former Soviet republic, including media, brewing and finance. He is a close associate of Valery Belokon, one of Latvia's wealthiest entrepreneurs, whose numerous holdings include the Blackpool football club in England.

Otunbayeva, the interim leader, said earlier this week that she believed Maxim Bakiyev had taken refuge in Latvia, but authorities in the Baltic state could neither confirm nor deny that claim.

Maxim's elder brother, Marat Bakiyev, who was deputy head of the KGB successor until his father's ouster, is also assumed to have taken up residence in Latvia.

No obvious asylum nations
Among the most difficult issues in a possible Bakiyev resignation are whether he would stay in the country. The interim government has firmly insisted he leave the country, but Bakiyev has shown no inclination to do so, and there are no obvious countries for him to go to for asylum.

Observers note, however, that the prominence of family ties in the political life of Kyrgyzstan, where power dynamics are in large part determined by clan ties and regional loyalties, was not invented by the Bakiyevs and is unlikely to disappear with their departure.

"Revolutions in Kyrgyzstan will take place every year if nepotism and the principle of family-based power is not overcome," said Bishkek-based analyst Mars Sariyev.

A joke doing the rounds in Kyrgyzstan puts it better:

"How do you tell the difference between the Kyrgyz revolutions?

In one revolution, the relatives of a bad president got government jobs — in the other, the relatives of a good president will get the government jobs."