(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) In an indication that Kyrgyzstan's brief experiment with pluralism may be ending, authorities in this Central Asian country confirmed on Friday that RFE/RL radio and television broadcasts have been taken off the air.
"The suspension, which began on October 8, was initially portrayed as a payment dispute, but we have since traced the payments and confirmed deposit and receipt," said RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin. "Nine weeks have passed. Our programs remain off the air. Kyrgyz officials have refused to meet with us to resolve the situation. Frankly, we expected more from a country trying to prove its reformist credentials in the region."
Melis Eshimkanov, director of state-owned UTRK, gave his first public acknowledgement of RFE/RL's situation yesterday in remarks to Reuters after announcing the suspension of the BBC's local service, also on contractual grounds. UTRK is the only nationwide Kyrgyz-language broadcaster in Kyrgyzstan, and has long aired RFE/RL radio broadcasts and prime-time television programs.
The original suspension of RFE/RL programming coincided with local elections in Kyrgyzstan on October 5, which exposed political turmoil in the country and galvanized public criticism against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev for concentrating power.
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known in Kyrgyzstan as Radio Azattyk, broadcasts three hours of radio programming a day and produces two weekly prime-time television news shows, "Inconvenient Questions" and the youth-oriented "Azattyk Plus". The Service is extremely popular in Kyrgyzstan -- recent surveys by Intermedia show that 40 percent of all Kyrgyz adults either listened to Kyrgyz Service radio broadcasts or watched its television shows at least once a week.