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Kyrgyz opposition takes over as regime collapses and looting engulfs capital

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www3.turkishpress.com/w.asp?s=i&i=050325011714.c1rxz8wq Page updated on 03-25-2005 Kyrgyz opposition takes over as regime collapses and looting engulfs
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 24, 2005
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      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
      neighboring Kazakhstan.

      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
      fractious opposition.

      "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
      television sets.

      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
      Andrei Gruzin.

      "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.
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