BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – The U.S. Embassy on Friday condemned an attack this week that wounded a leading Kyrgyz pro-democracy activist who had campaigned against an alleged crime boss, and it said the government must uphold the rule of law.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, meanwhile, accused politicians of trying to misrepresent the Central Asian nation "as a country where crime is omnipresent."
"This is not so," Bakiyev told a meeting of the national council for fighting organized crime, according to the Interfax news agency. He added that Kyrgyzstan wasn't even among the five former Soviet republics with the highest crime rate.
The U.S. Embassy said the attack on Edil Baisalov, leader of the civic group For Democracy and Civil Society, was "a serious escalation of the troubling political violence that has occurred in Kyrgyzstan over the past year."
Baisalov, who was attacked Wednesday in the capital, Bishkek, sustained head wounds. Authorities initially said he was shot, but the interior minister later said he may have been hit with a heavy object.
Authorities linked the attack on Baisalov with the bid by alleged crime boss Ryspek Akmatbayev to become a lawmaker.
Human Rights Watch called for an investigation that would be "thorough, independent and capable of leading to prosecution."
"The government of Kyrgyzstan must bring the perpetrator to justice and show that such violence will not be tolerated," said Holly Cartner, Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia director.
Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliyev said he suspected the assault had been carried out by supporters of Akmatbayev.
Kyrgyzstan has been unstable since last year's ouster of long-ruling President Askar Akayev, who was accused of authoritarianism and corruption. Bakiyev's new administration has been blamed for deteriorating public security amid the increasing political influence of criminal figures in this small, impoverished country.
There have been a series of high-profile murders and prison riots in the past year.
The U.S. Embassy urged the government "to t00ake a stand on combating organized crime and upholding the rule of law."
Baisalov was attacked two days after announcing that his group would seek the annulment of Akmatbayev's victory in a by-election for a parliamentary seat. The election authority has refused to register Akmatbayev as a lawmaker because he is under criminal investigation.
Akmatbayev is accused of involvement in the killing of a police official and two rival gang members. By law, he cannot be granted a lawmaker's mandate until the case is closed.
Earlier, he was convicted in two separate cases of setting up a criminal gang and possession of illegal arms.
Suvanaliyev accused the prosecutor's office Friday of preventing Akmatbayev's prosecution by refusing to back the accusations against him. He told parliament that Akmatbayev's gang was the most dangerous of the three main organized criminal groups active in the country.
"Organized criminal groups these days are using all our democratic achievements, acting openly, spreading information through media, organizing mass protests and political actions, hiring the best lawyers," Suvanaliyev said.