Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan have opened a criminal case against the runner-up in recent presidential elections, the multimillionaire businessman Omurbek Babanov. Officials are accusing Babanov of fomenting ethnic tension and attempting to incite the overthrow of the government during a campaign stump speech in a largely Uzbek community in the southern city of Osh. “With the intent of garnering votes from the Uzbek section of the population, Babanov talked about rights violations toward ethnic Uzbek, about supposed ethnic inequality in the country and about pressure on ethnic Uzbeks from government bodies, and then he proceeded to incite people to actively resist this situation,” the General Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement on November 4. In a statement, Babanov refuted the accusations made against him, calling them “a contrived, politicized criminal case.”
Prosecutors are dwelling in particular on select phrases used by Bababov during the speech. In one passage, he told the crowd it was “better to die standing than to live on your knees” and that “if even one policeman should disrespect Uzbeks, they should be fired from their job.”
The ethnic issue is deeply toxic in southern Kyrgyzstan, which was rocked in June 2010 by a wave of inter-communal violence that left hundreds, mostly Uzbeks, dead. Police sweeps and investigations that followed the unrest almost exclusively targeted members of the Uzbek community.