Kyrgyz opposition takes over as regime collapses and looting engulfs capital
Page updated on 03-25-2005
Kyrgyz opposition takes over as regime collapses and
looting engulfs capital
Opposition leaders in Kyrgyzstan took the reins of
power after President Askar Akayev's hardline regime
collapsed and looting engulfed the normally sleepy
capital of the Central Asian nation.
In a day of dramatic developments, crowds stormed the
White House compound housing the government and
presidency and seized control of the main television
Amid reports that Akayev had fled the country as
discontent over a disputed parliamentary election
boiled over, the legislature then met in an emergency
session to name opposition chiefs to the nation's top
Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, elected as parliament speaker,
will serve as interim president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev as
the interim prime minister and Felix Kulov as the
chief of the power ministries, deputies attending the
session told reporters afterward
A council of national unity, headed by Bakiyev, will
act as a temporary government, they said.
"Askar Akayev right now is not on Kyrgyz soil,"
Bakiyev said on television, after earlier reports that
the 60-year-old, considered to be the most liberal of
leaders in ex-Soviet Central Asia, fled the poor
mountainous nation of five million on China's western
edge that he has ruled since 1990.
But Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the United States said
Akayev had not relinquished power.
"The president has not resigned, he didn't sign his
resignation and he is now in a safe place," Baktybek
Abdrissaev said in Washington in a news conference
televised by CNN.
Earlier Akayev was reported to have flown to
Massive looting engulfed the capital Bishkek as night
fell, with bands of mostly young men smashing store
windows and walking off with everything from
supermarket produce to refrigerators.
Bakiyev said Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev had
resigned, and the Supreme Court announced that it had
annulled results of the parliamentary election on
March 13 which sparked the opposition protests.
Amid unprecedented scenes, protesters also freed
Kulov, a former vice president jailed in 2000 and who
many now believe will become the leader of the
"Let's keep the peace, let's not lose our head," Kulov
said into a megaphone, addressing some 4,000 people on
the steps of the White House. "I want to thank you
that you weren't afraid and were peaceful and
From early morning Thursday, protesters began
gathering for the biggest opposition show of force in
Bishkek to date.
Police, some of them on horseback, repeatedly charged
the demonstrators as they neared the White House, but
the crowd kept surging forward and soon swept past the
overwhelmed security forces into the government
At one point, a lone rider on a black horse galloped
through the crowd with a yellow banner in his hand.
"We have taken control of the presidency!" shouted
Bakiyev, cheered on by a crowd wild with excitement
after hours of scuffles.
Inside, youths brandishing wooden sticks grabbed juice
cans from a vending machine that burst open under the
assault. Upstairs, men carried off computers and
Others went on a rampage, smashing windows and
throwing chairs, documents and portraits of Akayev out
of the window while waving the national flag. Later
some bragged of beating up administration officials
they found inside the building.
Protesters, fired up by fighting and alcohol, proudly
displayed battle trophies of police helmets,
bulletproof vests and clubs. Several with bloodied
faces tried to staunch the flow with the pink and
yellow headbands of the Kyrgyz opposition.
Akayev's departure sets an unexpected precedent in a
turbulent region with a potentially explosive ethnic
mix and a tradition of autocratic rule backed by
Moscow in the name of stability and the struggle
against Islamic extremism.
"If the situation normalizes, these events will have
an impact on Central Asian countries by giving them
the example of a popular movement that managed to
topple the regime in power," said Russian analyst
"It's absolutely unbelievable, no-one expected this to
happen," said Rita Mangiyeva, a 19-year-old student.
"We thought that maybe we would have a revolution 10
to 20 years from now."
Thursday's events in Bishkek, situated in the north of
the country, were a dramatic escalation of opposition
protests that until now had been focused on the
impoverished and more volatile south.
They followed March 13 parliamentary elections which
the opposition claims were rigged by Akayev's
administration in order to pack the assembly with his
supporters ahead of presidential elections in October.
The opposition's presence in the 75-member parliament
was nearly wiped out, while his older daughter and son
both won seats.
Powerless to intervene, the Russian foreign ministry
said the developments were "a cause for serious
concern" and urged a return to "a lawful path."
Within the last two years, Russia has seen pro-Moscow
regimes swept away in two other former Soviet
republics, Georgia and Ukraine, following mass street
protests also sparked by disputed elections.
The United States had no official comment on the
situation, but ambassador Stephen Young, its envoy in
Bishkek, stressed the country's strategic role and
urged Russia and China to pitch in with Washington to
help restore stability.