BISHKEK: Kyrgyzstan's opposition said on Thursday it had seized power in the impoverished and strategically important Central Asian state after an uprising forced President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee the capital. Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the interim government, demanded the resignation of the president, whom she helped propel to power five years ago. She said Bakiyev,...
BISHKEK: Kyrgyzstan's opposition said on Thursday it had seized power in the impoverished and strategically important Central Asian state after an uprising forced President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee the capital.
Roza Otunbayeva, leader of the interim government, demanded the resignation of the president, whom she helped propel to power five years ago.
She said Bakiyev, who fled while security forces fired on protesters besieging government buildings in bloody clashes in Bishkek, was trying to rally supporters in his power base in southern Kyrgyzstan.
“What we did yesterday was our answer to the repression and tyranny against the people by the Bakiyev regime,” said Otunbayeva, who once served as Bakiyev's foreign minister.
“You can call this revolution. You can call this a people's revolt. Either way, it is our way of saying that we want justice and democracy,” she told reporters.
Bishkek awoke to blazing cars and burned-out shops on Thursday after a day in which at least 75 people were killed in the clashes between protesters and security forces.
Plumes of smoke billowed from the White House, the main seat of government, as crowds rampaged through the seven-storey building setting several rooms on fire. Looting was widespread.
The uprising, which began on Tuesday in a provincial town, was sparked by discontent over corruption, nepotism and rising utility prices in a nation where a third of the 5.3 million population live below the poverty line.
The United States and Russia both have military bases in Kyrgyzstan and are, along with China, major donors to the former Soviet state. NATO said flights from the U.S. base in support of its operations in Afghanistan were suspended due to the unrest.
Russia was quick to recognise Otunbayeva's takeover. Washington declined to comment on the recognition. China said only that it was deeply disturbed by the unrest.
The European Union said the country was “entering a new phase”, but stopped short of embracing the interim government.
IN FULL CONTROL
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's spokesman said Otunbayeva had told him by telephone she was in full control of the country and he saw her as “the new head of government”.
Putin earlier denied Moscow had played a hand in the clashes and Otunbayeva said the new government would allow the U.S. base in the Kyrgyz city of Manas to continue to operate while adding that “some questions” over it would be resolved.
Bakiyev announced the base would close during a visit to Moscow last year at which he also secured $2 billion in crisis aid, only to agree later to keep the base open at a higher rent.
Bakiyev fled Bishkek to southern Kyrgyzstan, his traditional power base in a nation split by clan rivalries. A witness said he arrived late on Wednesday at the airport in Osh, and Otunbayeva said later he was in his home region of Jalalabad.
“We want to negotiate his resignation,” she said. “His business here is over … The people who were killed here yesterday are the victims of his regime.”
She said the interim government controlled the whole country, except for Osh and Jalalabad. Armed forces and border guards supported the new government, she said. There has been no word from Bakiyev and his spokesmen were not available.
In the centre of Osh, hundreds of Bakiyev's supporters scuffled on Thursday with opponents of his regime, who took control of the government building, a Reuters reporter said.
Many of those who died in the capital suffered gunshot wounds. Protesters stormed the government building that Bakiyev left behind, smashing trucks through the perimeter fencing.
The U.S.-led NATO alliance said the interruption to flights through Manas should not significantly affect operations or logistical support in Afghanistan.
Bakiyev came to power in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution” protests, led jointly by Otunbayeva, which ousted Kyrgyzstan's first post-Soviet president, Askar Akayev. She briefly served as acting foreign minister before falling out with Bakiyev.
The opposition said at least 100 people had been killed on Wednesday after security forces opened fire with live ammunition. The Health Ministry put the death toll in Bishkek at 75 dead, and said more than 1,000 people had been injured.
Political unrest over poverty, rising prices and corruption has gripped Kyrgyzstan since early March. The average monthly wage is about $130 and remittances from workers in Russia have fallen sharply during the global economic crisis.
“It was a never ending rip-off. Every day they would raise prices for gas, for water, and in the end is it good to shoot at your own people?” said Alioglu Samedov, 62, a retired lawyer.
In her first major policy statement, Otunbayeva said she would cut utility prices and return certain assets she said were “illegally privatised”, referring to two power companies.
Analysts said the unrest would also increase uncertainty for foreign investors in Kyrgyzstan's mining sector and would have an impact on U.S. interests in Central Asia.
Canadian mining company Centerra Gold said on Wednesday its flagship Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan had so far been unaffected by the violence, but its shares fell 22 Canadian cents to C$13.32 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Chaarat Gold Holdings Ltd said on Thursday its operations were unaffected after its shares fell 9.4 percent.
“Bakiyev is unlikely to return to power but the prevailing uncertainty poses severe risks to foreign investors, raises the possibility of foreign intervention and will directly affect U.S. interests in Central Asia,” said Eurasia Group analyst Ana Jelenkovic.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for calm and said a special U.N. envoy would get there on Friday. Ban, who visited Kyrgyzstan last week, said he thought pressure had been building for months. “I could feel the tension in the air,” he said. AGENCIES