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Latest update : 2010-08-05

Government forces in Kyrgyzstan clashed with demonstrators outside the capital Bishkek on Thursday, dispersing protesters with tear gas and arresting a renegade political leader who returned to the country this week after several years in exile.

AFP - Kyrgyz police on Thursday shot into the air and fired tear gas to disperse protestors authorities say were attempting to carry out a coup in the troubled Central Asian state.

Government forces clashed with stone-wielding supporters of a renegade businessman in the settlement of Novo Pokrovka, 15 kilometres (nine miles) outside the capital Bishkek, after an earlier peaceful protest in the capital.

The demonstrators rallied in support of businessman and political leader Urmat Baryktobasov, a one-time presidential hopeful who returned to the country this week after several years in exile.

"Today, he (Baryktobasov) tried to destabilise the situation in Kyrgyzstan and seize power," said President Roza Otunbayeva.

"His supporters were heavily armed, and among them were many criminal elements who were paid very well for their work today."

She said 27 people were arrested, including Baryktobasov.

Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished former Soviet republic bordering China, has been wracked by political chaos and ethnic violence since the ouster of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in bloody street protests in April.

Otunbayeva, a former ambassador to both the United States and Britain, has struggled to impose order, particularly in the country's restive southern regions where ethnic riots killed more than 350 people in June.

Kyrgyz Interior Minister Kubatbek Baibolov said pro-government forces had foiled the plot and were in control of the capital.

"At the current time the situation in the city (Bishkek) is under control and we will not allow a destabilisation," he said on national television.

"All who have taken part in this attempt to seize power will be arrested. We will take tough measures towards the individuals involved in the rioting," he added.

Following conflicting reports in local media, the government confirmed that Baryktobasov had been arrested but declined to give details.

"Urmat Baryktobasov has just now been arrested," presidential spokesman Avlan Zhunabayev told AFP.

Military helicopters swooped low over a crowd of more than 1,500 protesters outside Kyrgyzstan's parliament in the capital Bishkek, a sign of how seriously the fragile interim government treats any signs of unrest.

In Novo Pokrovko hundreds of members of the security forces opened fire over the heads of about 2,000 protestors as they advanced on, and appeared ready to breach, police lines.

But several waves of riot police, army and special forces troops were able to beat back the demonstrators, chasing them down the village's narrow alleyways and out through the rolling fields surrounding the settlement.

The protestors outside parliament demanded that Otunbayeva meet with them immediately and put an end to a criminal investigation against Baryktobasov.

Interim government deputy chief Azimbek Beknazarov said Baryktobasov had given the government an "ultimatum" that he was named prime minister and all criminal proceedings against him were halted.

In an interview with AFP this week, Otunbayeva said it was impossible to rule out further violence in Kyrgyzstan, the only country in the world to house Russian and US military bases.

"Look, we have danger of violence all the time. All the time," she said.

Baryktobasov had been long pursued by the authorities on suspicion of trying to oust a previous government in a demonstration that became violent in 2005, when he was seeking to run for the post of president.

He then fled the country, returning earlier this week.

Date created : 2010-08-05


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