04/14/2010, 00.00
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Kyrgyzstan “on the verge of civil war”, vulnerable to Islamist infiltration

Russian President Medvedev warns about the danger of civil war, calls on ousted President Bakiyev to resign. The country is split and many fear civil strife might favour infiltration by Muslim extremists.
Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kyrgyzstan is “on the verge of civil war” and could become a "second Afghanistan," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said at a meeting of a Washington think-tank. Local sources are reporting that Moscow has offered assistance to the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva. Many are concerned that the poor central Asian nation is vulnerable to Islamic extremism. In light of the situation, the Russian leader has called on ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to step down.

Bakiyev, who fled to the southern Jalalabad region, his traditional stronghold, said he is willing to go into exile if he and his family could leave in safety. For some, this is an attempt to start a dialogue with the interim government, which took over last week and is in control of the northern part of the country.

Roza Otunbayeva, who is receiving statements of support from local leaders, said that the government’s offer of immunity is limited to Bakiyev and not his family, and even that is not going to last for long.

Many members of the ousted president’s family have been accused of serious crimes. They include a son and a brother, who were put in charge in key state institutions.

In the meantime, the interim government announced that it dissolved the Constitutional Court.

At present, the country is split in two. State TV is no longer reporting from the south. In Jalalabad, more than 5,000 supporters met in support of Bakiyev (pictured).

Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries of Central Asia and lacks domestic energy sources. However, it is strategically located, between Afghanistan, China and Kazakhstan.

It is also the only country to have both a Russian and a US military base (for operations in Afghanistan). The Americans are paying US$ 15 million per year to use the Manas airport as a transit centre because it is close to Afghanistan.

The landlocked, mountainous country is sparsely populated with many ethnic groups, some deported from other parts of the former Soviet Union during Stalin’s purges.

In the past few years, it has become a transit region for Islamic extremists and many are concerned that the current instability could be used by radical Islamic factions to infiltrate the country, especially if the current north-south split persists or leads to armed clashes.

A great question mark remains as to what the big powers will do. Moscow is ready to act and Washington is not likely to give up its only base in the region, crucial for its presence in Afghanistan, and proximity to Russia and China.

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UN reports at least 400,000 refugees in Kyrgyzstan
Violent clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks leave 49 dead and hundreds of wounded
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Kyrgyzstan’s unfinished revolution