SPIEGEL Interview with Kyrgyzstan's Interim President 'We Are Experiencing a New Kind of Terror'

Kyrgyzstan's interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, has been struggling to deal with ethnic violence in her country. In a SPIEGEL interview, she claims that supporters of her predecessor Kurmanbek Bakiyev are deliberately trying to stoke conflict and speaks of her efforts to make Kyrgyzstan into a parliamentary democracy.

Kyrgyzstan's interim President Roza Otunbayeva (June 11 photo):
REUTERS

Kyrgyzstan's interim President Roza Otunbayeva (June 11 photo):

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SPIEGEL: You came to power in April, after former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the country. Your presidency hasn't been legitimized yet. How do you intend to change this?

Otunbayeva: The people will vote on a new constitution at the end of June. It will also be a referendum on my policies. After that, we will organize new elections, first for the parliament and then for the highest office in the country. I will not run for office. My mandate ends after a year and a half.

SPIEGEL: Kyrgyzstan threatens to split apart amid ethnic violence between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks. You have lost control over the south. Is this the right time for a referendum?

Otunbayeva: Kyrgyzstan will not fall apart. The situation is stabilizing. Now the enemies must be eliminated, especially the snipers who are making it unsafe in the south. Our intelligence agencies are warning of further coordinated violence leading up to the referendum. We will be prepared.

SPIEGEL: Your counterparts in the neighboring Central Asian republics rule with dictatorial power, because they fear precisely the kind of instability currently being seen in Kyrgyzstan. Why do you want to introduce a parliamentary democracy?

Otunbayeva: Because it is in keeping with Kyrgyz traditions and way of life. Our nation was once formed out of 40 tribes. However, the presidential system has always led to authoritarian dominance by one clan. The people have driven their president out of the country twice for this very reason. Should this go on like this forever?

SPIEGEL: But you have no power. How do you intend to consolidate your control?

Otunbayeva: You are mistaken. In only two months, we thwarted several coup attempts by the clan of my predecessor, Bakiyev. We are experiencing a new kind of terror: the deliberate stoking of ethnic conflicts. Nevertheless, we have already achieved more in two months than Bakiyev's corrupt regime did in five years, by reducing the costs of heating oil, electricity and water, and giving the country freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly.

SPIEGEL: Eyewitnesses report seeing regular Kyrgyz troops opening fire on Uzbek civilians in the city of Osh. Are there elements within the army that want to overthrow you?

Otunbayeva: I have no doubt that all of our troops are loyal to me. We had only nine armored vehicles in the south, and they were promptly engaged in fighting. Some were captured by the attackers and were then used against citizens. In other words, the attackers were not government employees but mercenaries -- hired by supporters of my predecessor Bakiyev.

SPIEGEL: Kyrgyzstan is the only country in the world where both the United States and Russia have a military base. The major powers are competing for influence, but they have not yet come to your aid.

Otunbayeva: We must recognize that some processes take a distressingly long time. It takes time to send peacekeeping troops.

SPIEGEL: The US media has reported that you initially requested help from Washington, but without success, and only then turned to the Kremlin.

Otunbayeva: That's incorrect. We maintain a very productive dialogue with Moscow. We had, however, asked the Americans for armored vehicles and for shock grenades and stun grenades, which our security forces would have used to stop the militant agitators.

Interview conducted by Benjamin Bidder.

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