President flees capital as opposition leaders claim they have taken control
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has flown out of Bishkek after riots in the capital, an airport employee said. Meanwhile, an opposition leader claimed protesters had seized the presidential administration and installed a "people's government".
AFP - Opponents of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev took control Wednesday of Kyrgyzstan after a day of spectacular violence that ended with Bakiyev fleeing the capital of the strategic Central Asian state.
Opposition protesters seized the presidential administration Wednesday night and announced on state radio that they had formed a provisional government with former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva at its head.
A worker at Bishkek's international airport told AFP that the 60-year-old Bakiyev had fled the capital aboard a small plane as his opponents consolidated their grip on key national institutions.
Opposition leader Temir Sariyev said on Kyrgyz radio that Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov had signed a letter of resignation and Otunbayeva vowed that the new leadership in the country would move quickly to normalize the situation.
"Power is now in the hands of the people's government," Otunbayeva said in an address on state radio.
"Responsible people have been appointed and are already working to normalize the situation."
The fast-moving events in Kyrgyzstan capped a day of ferocious clashes in Bishkek and other cities that quickly turned into a nationwide revolt against Bakiyev that was believed to have left scores dead.
As unrest swept the Central Asian republic, the opposition took control of the national television, the prosecutors' office was set alight and state media reported that a deputy prime minister was held hostage in the remote northwest.
The riots were the culmination of spiralling protests in the Central Asian nation with the opposition demanding Bakiyev's resignation and accusing his government of rights violations, authoritarianism and economic mismanagement.
Despite briefly arresting three leading opposition figures and declaring a state of emergency, the authorities failed to prevent the rebels from rapidly taking control of some of the main levers of power.
A health ministry official said 47 people had died, many from gunshot wounds, and more than 400 were injured. Officials said that the toll could be expected to rise.
Opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev said separately that more than 100 people had been killed in the violence.
The United States, which maintains an air base in Kyrgyzstan used in the NATO campaign in nearby Afghanistan, voiced "deep concern", while Russia also appealed for calm in the former Soviet republic.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Moscow had no involvement in unrest in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.
"Neither Russia nor your humble servant (Putin) have any links" to the events in Kyrgyzstan, Putin told reporters during a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in Smolensk, western Russia.
"At the same time, when (Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek) Bakiyev came to power a few years ago, he severely criticised (former president Askar) Akayev for nepotism, that only his family held power. I have the impression that Mr. Bakiyev is now stepping on the same rake," Putin said.
Prior to seizing the presidential offices, opposition protesters laid siege to both the national parliament and the offices of the government, demanding that Bakiyev quit.
An AFP journalist meanwhile saw flames coming from the ground floor of the four-storey prosecutors' office.
Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades in repeated bids to disperse the demonstrators and Usenov declared a state of emergency, but all to little effect.
A police source and a witness said Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev had been killed in the northwest hub of Talas where the first protests erupted.
Kongantiyev was attacked by protestors who had also taken deputy prime minister Akylbek Zhaparov captive, the Kabar Kyrgyz state news agency reported.
An interior ministry spokesman, Rakhmatullo Akhmedov, later said Kongantiyev was alive but admitted the government had little information on the situation in Talas, saying it was "checking" reports the minister was taken hostage.
In Bishkek, explosions from stun grenades reverberated across the city and the crackle of automatic weapons fire filled the air as protesters in the main square gasped for breath in a fog of tear gas.
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 in Bishkek.
Protestors appeared to have seized several heavily armoured police vehicles and were standing on them waving red Kyrgyz flags and the blue flag of the opposition movement.
Looters also ransacked the home of Bakiyev's family, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
The violence came a day after more than 1,000 opposition protesters burst through police lines and took control of government offices in Talas.
And in the central city of Naryn, hundreds of opposition protesters on Wednesday stormed the regional government headquarters after the local governor refused to negotiate.
Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country perched at the strategic junction between China, Russia and southwest Asia, is among the poorest countries to have emerged from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.
It has been plagued by corruption and chronic instability and the troubles resemble widespread unrest that washed over the country in March 2005 and resulted in the ouster of president Askar Akayev.