New Kyrgyz leaders urge president to quit

April 8, 2010 12:00 am

, BISHKEK, Apr 8 – The new rulers of Kyrgyzstan told toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to quit and announced the disbanding of parliament on Thursday as they shored up diplomatic support after a bloody people\’s uprising.

Ex-foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva, who has been declared interim leader, said Bakiyev had fled the capital and was trying to rally support in a southern stronghold after a revolt against his rule which left at least 75 people dead.

But she said that fresh presidential elections would be held in six months time as she secured support from the Russian government, still the key foreign player in the former Soviet republic which also hosts a US airbase.

A health ministry official told AFP 75 people had been killed and over 1,000 injured in the riots which swept the central Asian republic on Wednesday, although a senior opposition figure put the death toll at more than 100.

Kyrgyzstan has been plagued by corruption and chronic instability and Wednesday\’s uprising was the culmination of growing opposition anger fuelled by widespread fraud and irregularities in last year\’s presidential polls.

The riots were accompanied by looting, including of Bakiyev\’s residence where everything from radiators to plants was being pillaged on Thursday.

As UN chief Ban Ki-moon announced he was sending an envoy to the country, Otunbayeva appealed for calm and told the armed forces to refrain from force.

The exact whereabouts of Bakiyev, 60, were not immediately clear but reports said he had sought safety near his traditional stronghold of Osh.

"The president is trying to consolidate his electorate in the south, in order to continue defending his positions," Otunbayeva said at a news conference. "The (interim government) insists that he stands down."

The parliament, she added, would be disbanded and the provisional government would temporarily perform the duties of both the president and parliament.

"Before the new parliament is elected the provisional government assumes its duties," Otunbayeva added.

The government will for now occupy the parliament building even though it was badly damaged in Wednesday\’s riots, she added.

General Ismail Isakov, who has taken over as interim defence minister, said key military leaders had pledged their allegiance to the new government.

"The army has moved entirely to our side. I have been in touch with all of the commanders and they are responding to my orders," Isakov said.

Otunbayeva said a US airbase outside Bishkek which is seen as vital to the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan would remain open despite the power shift.

But careful not to upset Moscow, she also spoke by phone with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who in turn offered aid.

"Putin noted that… Russia has always provided and remains ready to provide necessary humanitarian aid to the people of Kyrgyzstan," Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian premier, told AFP.

The Russian military\’s chief of staff said an extra 150 elite paratroopers were being sent to its military base at Kant, just outside Bishkekn.

"It was the president\’s decision to send there two companies of paratroopers — around 150 people have arrived in Kant," Nikolai Makarov told reporters in the Czech republic, where he was accompanying President Dmitry Medvedev.

Makarov said the extra troops were being sent to the base to help ensure security for Russian military personnel and their families already based there.

In fierce clashes between opposition protesters and security forces in Bishkek on Wednesday, witnesses said security forces had fired live bullets into the air as between 3,000 and 5,000 protestors overturned cars and set them on fire. Similar scenes were seen throughout the country.

Looters also ransacked the home of Bakiyev\’s family, enraged by evidence of the first family\’s lavish lifestyle in one of the poorest countries to have emerged from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Brandishing a torn photograph of Bakiyev\’s wife decked in oversized jewels, one man shouted bitter encouragement to the looters on Thursday morning.

"The authorities robbed the people, now it\’s the people who are stripping the authorities," said Nurali Baimatovich, a school headmaster, as he watched the looters carry off their trophies.

Medvedev said the unrest was an internal issue but acknowledged the sense of popular resentment.

"This is Kyrgyzstan\’s internal affair, but the form the protest took showed ordinary people\’s extreme outrage at the existing regime," he said.


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