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Jews in Kyrgyzstan Feel Safe As Country Faces Possible Upheaval

March 22, 2005
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The small Jewish community of Kyrgyzstan is remaining calm as protests mount in the Central Asian country following a parliamentary election that some allege was rigged. Protests have been gathering momentum in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan since runoff elections on March 13, when opposition parties won only a handful of seats in Parliament.

This week, people opposing the country’s longtime authoritarian leader, Askar Akaev, took over two major cities in southern Kyrgyzstan, a small country sandwiched between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and China.

Akaev agreed Monday to a probe into allegations of widespread election fraud. Opposition leaders are demanding that he resign.

Boris Shapiro, the president of the country’s Jewish community, said Monday that Jews remained calm amid mounting protests in this country, and that no anti-Semitic incidents have been reported lately.

Shapiro said there were only five or six Jewish families, or about two dozen people, living in the south of the country. The majority of the country’s Jewish population– about 1,200 people — lives in the country’s capital, Bishkek, in the north. There have been no open protests in northern Kyrgyzstan.

Experts noted that Akaev’s grip on southern Kyrgyzstan long has been relatively weak because of the country’s rough, mountainous terrain and poor infrastructure, which make communications difficult.

Officials at the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in Moscow, of which the Jewish community of Kyrgyzstan is a member, told JTA on Monday that they have been following the situation closely and have been in touch with Jewish leaders in Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

“The Jewish communities in the region seem to remain calm, and from what we are hearing they do not believe their safety and well-being is threatened by what’s going on in the south of Kyrgyzstan,” Roman Spektor, a spokesman for the EAJC, told JTA.

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