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Democracy rising in ex-Soviet states

Aftershocks of Ukraine and Georgia are stirring up rallies in Central Asia.

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The peaceful street revolts that recently brought democratic change to Georgia and Ukraine could spawn copy-cat upheavals against authoritarian regimes across the former Soviet Union, experts say.

Waving orange scarves and banners - the colors of Ukraine's revolution - dozens of Uzbeks demonstrated in the capital Tashkent last week over the demolition of their homes to make way for border fencing.

According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the protest compelled the autocratic government of Islam Karimov, widely condemned for human rights abuses, to pay compensation.

In Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, hundreds of pro-democracy activists rallied on Saturday to demand that upcoming parliamentary elections be free and fair.

From Kyrgyzstan on the Chinese border to Moldova, where Europe's only ruling Communist Party faces elections next month, opposition parties are eagerly studying Georgia's "Rose Revolution" and Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," which led to the triumph of pro-democracy forces. Opposition groups are even selecting symbols for their banners when the moment arrives - tulips for the Kyrgyz opposition, grapes for Moldova's anticommunists.

"The recent events in Ukraine have made people everywhere understand that taking to the streets gets the authorities' attention," says Tatiana Poloskova, deputy director of the independent Institute of Modern Diaspora, which studies Russian minorities in former Soviet countries.

Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili and newly inaugurated Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko were clearly addressing their former Soviet colleagues last month when they hailed their revolts as the leading edge of "a new wave of liberation that will lead to the final victory of freedom and democracy on the continent of Europe."

The prospect has sent shudders through the Kremlin, still smarting from the "loss" of pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia and Ukraine, and reeling in the face of its own grass-roots revolt by pensioners protesting cuts in social services. For Russia, where authoritarian methods have been taking root under President Vladimir Putin, the prospect of pro-democracy rebellions sweeping the former Soviet Union seems to threaten the underpinnings of domestic stability. The pro-Western bent of the new regimes in Ukraine and Georgia may also threaten the economic ties Russia has built with post-Soviet regimes from Armenia to Uzbekistan.

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