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Kyrgyz Business Demanding Honest Government


Last week's revolt in Kyrgyzstan against the regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev sparked a wave of looting that has shaken businesses and undermined investor confidence. Armed criminal gangs were also reported terrorizing foreign mining companies.

Mourners at the main government building in Bishkek pay homage to scores of protesters who died storming the building last week. Among the flower arrangements is an expression of sympathy with the Kyrgyz people from the Talas Gold Mining Company.

Tuesday, international mining companies expressed public concern about arbitrary property seizures. They joined 300 representatives of small and medium-sized Kyrgyz businesses who appealed to interim Finance Minister Temir Sariyev for protection against lawlessness.

Sariyev says he wants everyone to understand that those who today hang around offices planning to get into the raiding business or racketeering - the government's position is firm. He cautions that anyone standing outside offices trying to seize anyone's property illegally will be blocked from such attempts.

The Kyrgyz revolt sparked widespread looting of kiosks, supermarkets and shopping malls. Loss estimates are still being compiled.

The CEO of the Bishkek Business Club, Uluk Kydyrbayev, says perhaps the greatest loss is intangible, trust in the country's stability. He says some in the business community also fear that interim leaders may seize assets, just like the Bakiyev regime.

"They announced a list of companies that sort of have a connection or affiliation with the family of the former president. The problem is that there are some companies that have no true affiliation. So now they are in danger of being nationalized or taken away."

Business and civic activists are holding various meetings these days to discuss how to avoid yet another revolt in Kyrgyzstan. Entrepreneur Emil Umetaliev points to what he says is the interim government's greatest challenge.

Umetaliev says the legitimacy of the interim government will depend, first of all, on the strength and stability of trust it establishes with the Kyrgyz people, and secondly, on the way people of Kyrgyzstan re-establish international trust in their country and its interim government.

As Kyrgyz businesses cleanup after looters, they also brace for a downturn following the revolt.

Government too faces a cleanup. Its main building suffered serious damage and the prosecutor's office was completely gutted. Uluk Kydyrbayev says fixing property damage will be much easier than establishing honest government. For this, he says business is demanding transparent government.

"It should be clear [and] understandable what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what all their decisions are based on. This is one. Secondly, they need to have good public monitoring; civil society participation in their work. And we want also want free mass media. No censorship," Kydyrbayev said.

Looted businesses in Kyrgyzstan attest to lawless citizens just as high-caliber bullet holes in the fence surrounding the Kyrgyz White House attest to lawless government. Last week, those bullets claimed the lives of more than 80 people, whose photos today adorn that fence.

The Kyrgyz often say their country has the potential to become the Switzerland of Asia. They say it will succeed when Switzerland is called the Kyrgyzstan of Europe, where everyone in and out of government can make an honest and decent living.

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