The small Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan descended into chaos this week as protesters angry at President Kurmanbek Bakiyev managed to overthrow his government and claim at least partial control of the country. In clashes with police, approximately 75 protestors were killed and hundreds were wounded. (Watch a Fox report about unrest in Krgyzstan.) Here's a brief look at what happened, who's involved, and why Americans should be concerned about the outcome:
What were the protesters angry about?
Their ire stems from rising energy and water costs, sky-high unemployment, and corruption and human-right abuses by the Bakiyev government. Government troops fired on and killed several protesters in the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday, fueling broader riots that overwhelmed the police and military. The chain of events is similar to the 2005 "Tulip Revolution" that ousted Askar Akayev and installed Bakiyev.
Who's in charge now?
That's not entirely clear. Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva declared herself interim leader Thursday, saying elections would be held in six months. The police and military have apparently sided with her, at least for now. Bakiyev fled to the south of the country Wednesday, but refused to step down. He's said to be consolidating control from the southern city of Jalalabad.
Why is this a big deal for the U.S.?
Because of Manas Air Base (or the "Transit Center at Manas," as it was renamed last year), which is the U.S. military's only air base in Central Asia and a key refueling stop and support asset for the war in Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz parliament voted to kick out the U.S. and Russia (which also has a Kyrgyz air base) last summer, but Bakiyev relented after both nations agreed to ante up many millions of dollars. After suspending all flights during the protests, Manas was back to normal operations Friday.
Will the U.S. lose the Manas Air Base?
The interim government says it won't make any changes right away. The longer-term prospects are less clear. "The U.S. should be willing to walk away from the Manas base deal," argues Borut Grgic at CNN. If the Obama team can "foster the perception in Kyrgyzstan that the U.S. has an alternative," they'll get a better and more transparent deal.
Who is Roza Otunbayeva — aka "Ms. Clean"?
She's a 59-year-old former diplomat who was ambassador to both Britain and the U.S. Opposition leaders said they chose her as caretaker president because she has no apparent political ambitions, and no base of support in the country (hence her nickname, "Ms. Clean"). She "raised some alarms in Washington" by thanking Russia for its "significant help" in ousting Bakiyev, says Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post, but "the good news is she comes as close as anyone in Kyrgyzstan does to being a liberal democrat."
Did Russia have a role in overthrowing Bakiyev?
Russia had a falling out with Bakiyev when he went back on his plan to close Manas (Russia doesn't want a U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan). As retribution, Russia hiked the prices of its energy exports to Kyrgyzstan and began vilifying Bakiyev on state-run media. But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied that Russia had any direct role in the turmoil.
Is the revolution being Tweeted?
Of course. Otunbayeva, protesters, and observers have all been using Twitter to spread news about the uprising. And at least one protester has uploaded a video to YouTube. Meanwhile, Facebook users seem to be siding with Bakiyev — a page in support of the government had 2,601 fans as of Friday morning.