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Kyrgyzstan roundup

Another day, another country. Kyrgyzstan feels particularly fascinating today, for some reason.

Since the March 2005 'tulip revolution', Kyrgyzstan has been trying to force the US out of Manas air base, which is crucial as a refuelling stop near to Afghanistan. The public line of the Kyrgyz side is that this is all about money - they don't mind the US, but they want to raise the rent 100 times over. The annual rent is currently some $2m; paying 100 times that would be quite incredible. But the politics comes back from the fact that 20-odd miles away, in Kant, there is a Russian air base, for which no rent is being charged.

Every now and again there's another border incident with Uzbekistan. So far it doesn't amount to much, but it can't help when the president warns that anybody armed and illegally crossing the border will be shot.

In the south, near the Ferghana valley, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and similar Islamist groups remain a threat. Add to this the proliferation of small arms and the drug-trafficking route from Afghanistan through Osh to Russia or Europe, and you see a problem emerging.

On the Chinese front, you can see the usual story of Chinese economic expansion into Central Asia. President Bakiev visited China on June 9-10, and he and the Chinese signed an agreement on a railway and a cement factory.

What about domestic politics? The powers that be are president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and Prime Minister Felix Kulov. This 'tandem' has been running Kyrgyzstan since May 2005, and according to a recent poll the Kyrgyz are mostly happy about it. 54% overall, and 72% in the South, believe "the country is headed in the right direction"

There's a surprisingly active political scene, with protests popping up all over the place - and in some cases seemingly influencing the government. As IWPR says,

Demonstrations are so commonplace in Kyrgyzstan that a gathering of 700 people in the centre of the southern city of Jalalabad might seem nothing out of the ordinary

On April 29 and May 27 major protests called for reform and for action against corruption and crime - but see these posts questioning whether the protests were as big as claimed, pointing out that some groups didn't take part, and that the aims of the demonstration were very unclear. Now here is a case where protesters broke into Bakiev's presidential compound.

Meanwhile members of the Uzbek minority aren't happy. And the "Unity" party has launched a campaign in favour of the Russian language.

As those protests suggest, government corruption and inefficiency are hot (or at least lukewarm) issues. Former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev is facing corruption charges, and Bakiev is cancelling vacation for officials until the end of the year. Prime Minister Felix Kulov is proposing a change to the constitution, which would reduce the pwoers of the president and let parliament appoint the prime minister.

Despite NewEurasia commentary, I don't understand the story with media reform in Kyrgyzstan. What would this media law reform mean, for example? See more here