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Akayev, Askar Akayevich

AKAYEV, ASKAR AKAYEVICH

(b. 1944), president of Kyrgyzstan who served in that post throughout the country's first decade of independence.

Askar Akayev was born in the Kyrgyz Soviet Republic (Kyrgyzia) and earned a doctor of sciences degree at the Leningrad Precision Mechanics and Optics Institute. He returned to Kyrgyzia in 1972, assuming a teaching post at the Politechnical Institute in Frunze (now Bishkek). He authored more than one hundred scientific works and articles on mathematics and computers, and in 1989 became president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences. He also served as a department head for the Central Committee of the Kyrgyz Communist Party.

As the Soviet Union began to break apart, he was elected to the presidency of the republic in 1990 by the republic's legislature, and in 1991 Kyrgyzstan gained independence and Akayev was elected president in a popular election. In contrast to other post-Soviet states in Central Asia, whose leaders retained their power from Soviet times, Kyrgyzstan made an attempt to break with the Soviet past. In his first years in office, Akayev won international acclaim as a backer of political and economic liberalization, aiming to turn his country into the "Switzerland of Central Asia." Akayev was reelected president in 1995 and in 2000. In the mid-1990s, however, some called his democratic credentials into question as he launched campaigns against journalists, imprisoned political opponents, and pushed through constitutional amendments to augment the powers of the presidency. In 2000 elections he won 75 percent of the vote, but observers claimed these elections were marred by fraud. Throughout 2002 and 2003, he was the target of protesters in Kyrgyzstan, who blamed him for chronic corruption and mounting economic difficulties. Nonetheless, in February 2003 he won approval of more changes to the constitution that enhanced his powers still further and won support in a referendum to confirm his term of office until December 2005. After these events, critics charged that he had become much like the Central Asian dictators.

While in office, Akayev has tried to assure inter-ethnic harmony in the country (30% of the population is ethnically Uzbek) and cracked down on small groups of Islamic militants. He has maintained good relations with Russia, and in 2001 offered

air bases and other support to U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.

See also: kyrgyzstan and kyrgyz; nationalities policies, soviet

bibliography

Akayev, Askar. (2001). Kyrgyzstan: An Economy in Transition. Canberra: Asia-Pacific Press.

Anderson, John. (1999). Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia's Island of Democracy? Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.

Paul J. Kubicek

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