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Bishkek used to be a sleepy city, laid out on a utopian socialist grid, built on five-year plans with just a hint of the Orient, which hides a peasant village of dirt tracks, corrugated iron roofs and unemployment, a slum for thousands. Night belonged to the profiteering policemen, an orchestra of howling guard dogs and malevolent drunks. But daylight showed you who was in charge. Intellectuals were too frightened to meet in public. Journalists showed you the bruises where they had been roughed up by Bakiyev's security thugs. His family drove sleek black SUVs while the rest made do with clapped-out Soviet-era vehicles with serious suspension problems. When Bakiyev seized power in the "Tulip Revolution" after weeks of street protests in 2005, Kyrgyzstan was supposed to be the democratic success story of Central Asia. There were hopes for an island of democracy in the hinterland of the ex-USSR, but by 2009 the opposition leader Bakyt Beshimov had made his mind up: "The island of democracy has sunk to the bottom of the sea." 

Bakiyev ruled from an imposing socialist-era edifice known as the White House. Flowerbeds of pansies were planted out front, then ringed by ornate gold-leafed grilles and protected by an elite detachment of armed police. This was a dictator that liked nothing better than to place billboard posters of his face along the highways, at crossroads and roundabouts, places where you couldn't avoid him. 

The most recent hoarding was a group photo of Central Asian dictators, hands placed one on top of the other, a grinning band of despotic brothers. Bakiyev wanted to be one of them. He craved the totalitarianism of Uzbekistan, the authoritarian efficiency of Kazakhstan or the sealed system of Turkmenistan. Step by step, he forgot his Tulip Revolution. 

The security services were handed over to his brother, economic life was placed in the hands of his son as the clan portioned off the wealth of the nation. Demonstrations were increasingly banned, or exiled to a derelict spot in the suburbs of Bishkek. Ministers were murdered, journalists and human rights activists began to disappear. Metal signposts announcing Bakiyev's goals were placed on the potholed north-south artery across Kyrgyzstan.

"Today is the national year of Agriculture." "Serving in the Army is serving the Motherland." 

He got the red-carpet treatment when he landed in Moscow or Washington. But his ex-Soviet backwater had no black gold. Bakiyev failed to realise that without oil, the one overwhelming financial trump-card in the pockets of his fellow Soviet bureaucrats-cum-dictators throughout Central Asia, he could never crudely consolidate power into the bank accounts and portfolios of his family. 

His delusions began to build a coalition against him. Systemically his corruption and oppressive edicts alienated each segment of society. Then this year the regime took a decisively sinister turn. Allegedly with the help of Chinese "aid", it began to block portions of the internet and censor reports of the mass protests in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad that frightened Putin's regime. That news reverberated across the Russian-speaking world. There were whispers in the universities, and opposition factions across Stalin's splintered empire took heart. If you could challenge Putin and get away with it, you might be able to topple a tinpot imitation. 

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