BBC Country Profile, 3 May 3001
Kyrgyzstan is a multi-ethnic state comprising Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Ukrainians and Germans, and a small number of Uighur, Dungan (Chinese Muslims) and Koreans.
However, there is tension between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities over access to land and housing, and inter-ethnic relations generally have been aggravated by official discrimination in favour of Kyrgyz speakers.
Such discrimination has created a steady exodus of skilled Russians, which in 2000 the authorities tried to stem by making Russian an official language and by promising the Russian minority dual citizenship.
The Russian exodus has compounded a dire economic situation created in part by Kyrgyzstan's failure to complete the transition from communism. As a result, factories remain closed, unemployment has soared, the national product has plummeted and malnutrition is rife. According to the United Nations, around 88% of Kyrgyzstan's population live on less than $4 a day.
For a while after independence, Kyrgyzstan was seen as the most democratic state in Central Asia. But this reputation has been dented by flawed parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000 and, since then, by the harassment and imprisonment of opposition leaders and the closure of opposition newspapers.
To compound matters, since 1999 Kyrgyzstan has had to increase its defence spending and to seek Russian military assistance in the face of incursions by guerrillas, said to be members of the Islamist opposition in Uzbekistan using the country as a transit point.
President: Askar Akayev
Akayev considers his main task as consolidating what has been achieved so far and ensuring the irreversibility of democratic processes.
In October 2000 he won a third term in office after conducting a campaign where he was accorded 90% of radio and television time. International observers described the elections as undemocratic.
Although six other candidates contested the election, several opposition leaders had been barred for failing a rigorous Kyrgyz language test or on technicalities.
Once seen as the most liberal in Central Asia, the Kyrgyz media have been experiencing increasing pressure. This was especially the case in the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000. This included threats against journalists, and official pressure in the form of tax inspections and law suits entailing large fines.
Several opposition newspapers have been closed while others have now substantially softened their stance in the wake of such pressure.
Television and radio