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The unsung role of Kung Fu in the Kyrgyz revolution

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/afp/20050328/lf_afp/kyrgyzstanpolitics_050328194347 The unsung role of Kung Fu in the Kyrgyz revolution Mon Mar 28,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 29, 2005

      The unsung role of Kung Fu in the Kyrgyz revolution

      Mon Mar 28, 2:43 PM ET

      KARA SUU, Kyrgyzstan (AFP) - Many say people power
      brought down the regime in Kyrgyzstan last week. But
      Bayaman Erkinbayev, a lawmaker, martial arts champ and
      one of the Central Asian nation's richest men, says it
      was his small army of Kung Fu-style fighters.

      In southern Kyrgyzstan, where the protests that
      brought down the Askar Akayev's 15-year regime first
      flared, the name of 37-year-old Erkinbayev seems to be
      on everyone's lips.

      Erkinbayev is the wealthy playboy head of the Palvan
      Corporation, who led 2,000 fighters trained in Alysh,
      Kyrgyzstan's answer to Kung Fu, to protests launched
      after the first round of a parliamentary election on
      February 27.

      A hero in his hometown Osh, he is generally considered
      to have financed the protests and sent his martial
      arts trainees to the front lines of the
      demonstrations, including in the capital Bishkek.

      "When our old men were beaten and thrown out of the
      regional administration building, my fighters were on
      the front line. And during the siege in Bishkek, my
      fighters went in first," Erkinbayev told AFP in his
      gymnasium in Osh.

      The demonstrations led to the toppling of Kyrgyzstan's
      veteran leader Askar Akayev, the third such
      "revolution" in an ex-Soviet nation in less than two
      years, after Georgia's "rose revolution" in 2003 and
      Ukraine's "orange revolution" late last year.

      People in Kyrgyzstan's south say Erkinbayev threw his
      men and money behind the opposition to prepare voters
      for his candidacy in an upcoming presidential

      Whether or not he was the driving force behind the
      toppling of the government, he is certainly regarded
      as such in his hometown.

      When some 20,000 people gathered in Osh's main square
      over the weekend to celebrate the regime's fall, the
      crowd cheered Erkinbayev who had just returned from
      the capital Bishkek, and locals jostled to get a
      closer look at him and shake his hand.

      Erkinbayev is not shy about taking credit for the
      tumult that led to Akayev's overthrow.

      "I went out and rallied the people," he said, cracking
      his knuckles as he struggled to compose sentences in
      Russian, his muscled build showing through his
      pin-striped suit.

      "The city of Osh, the capital of the south, played the
      most important role in the destruction of Akayev's

      Erkinbayev said he invested "an impressive amount" of
      money in keeping protesters in Jalal-Abad and Bishkek
      well fed and warm as they picketed and eventually
      stormed government buildings in this poor, mountainous
      state on China's western border.

      He said the Kyrgyz revolution started in the small
      town of Kara Suu, where Erkinbayev's former boss and
      mentor Arap Tolonov was shut out of a parliamentary
      seat after a candidate loyal to president Akayev
      allegedly armed busloads of high school students with
      absentee ballots to stuff boxes.

      Pupils from Erkinbayev's Alysh martial arts school in
      Osh were sent to protect demonstrators protesting the
      contested ballot in the Kara Suu bazaar.

      Afterwards demonstrations with the participation of
      Erkinbayev's trainees spread to the southern cities of
      Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Batken. They captured government
      sites, burnt down police stations and blocked key
      highways in the lead-up to the chaos that deposed
      Akayev in Bishkek.

      Erkinbayev won't say how much he is worth, but he is
      generally regarded as one of Kyrgyzstan's wealthiest
      people, especially in the impoverished south of the

      A decade ago he was an underling at a tobacco factory,
      but today he owns the Kara Suu bazaar, a cotton
      processing business, a shoe factory, entertainment
      complexes and several other businesses.

      He said his prowess in Alysh helped him progress.

      "I have always been a champion, so the people love me.
      This helped me get involved in politics personally,"
      said the three-time champion of Central Asia.

      Erkinbayev is no stranger to election scandals.

      In the parliamentary elections of 2000 he is said to
      have spent two weeks on the run from the police after
      allegedly beating a judge who ordered him to drop out
      of the race for failing to disclose some of his wife's
      property in his registration form.

      The ruling was later overturned under unclear
      circumstances and Erkinbayev described it as an

      "When I met the judge later he retracted his
      accusations," he said.
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