March 26, 2005 in Nation/World

Kyrgyzstan leaders act to assert authority

David Holley Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

A man jumps out of a shop window with a fur coat Friday in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
(Full-size photo)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders moved swiftly Friday to assert power a day after taking over the reins of government, while police and former protesters worked together to guard against renewed looting in this Central Asian nation’s capital.

Ousted President Askar A. Akayev, widely believed to have fled the country, was reported by Kyrgyz media to have issued an e-mail statement denouncing his political foes and stressing that he still held office. But few here believed he still had any chance of returning to power.

Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, appointed acting president Friday by the Parliament, said that quickly restoring order in the country was the top priority.

“We have to form a government which is going to resolve all the problems,” Bakiyev told reporters. “Above all we need to preserve stability. You can see what kind of unrest started yesterday, and we cannot allow this.”

As police stood by Thursday night, the city was hard hit by looting that targeted department stores and supermarkets owned by Akayev’s relatives or associates. By Friday evening, the police were back at work, backed up at some locations by ad hoc security forces organized by the former opposition.

Shortly after dark Friday, a rowdy crowd of about 1,000 that gathered at one of the city’s main downtown intersections appeared to threaten a department store that had largely escaped damage the previous night.

The crowd, mostly teenagers and young men, some drunk and many from provincial cities and towns, ignored loudspeaker orders to disperse. Police then fired warning shots, apparently blanks, in a successful effort to drive them back.

Later in the evening, the area was cordoned off by security volunteers drawn from the ranks of former protesters. They said police and soldiers were on guard at the store.

There were reports of similar incidents in other parts of the city later Friday night. Police exchanged fire with would-be looters in a crowd of about 500 people who had been trying to break into a bank office, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

The Health Ministry said two people were killed and 360 wounded in Thursday night’s looting.

Both the United States and Russia maintain military bases in Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous republic of 5 million people. The country is strategically located near Afghanistan, China and key oil-producing nations of the Caspian Sea region. Akayev was regarded as one of the less authoritarian leaders in a part of the world known for strong-man rule. There had been hopes among pro-democracy activists that he would hand over power peacefully to a successor chosen in a presidential election that had been scheduled for late this year, which could have set a precedent for the region.

Instead, Kyrgyzstan followed the path of largely nonviolent popular revolutions that swept aside governments in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine last year.

Bakiyev, who was also named prime minister Friday, announced appointments of Cabinet ministers later in the day. Roza Otunbayeva, another key former opposition leader, was named acting foreign minister. She said that new presidential elections would be held in June.

The takeover of government buildings followed protests over alleged fraud in parliamentary elections held on Feb. 27 and March 13. Bakiyev’s appointment as acting president and prime minister was endorsed by a gathering of the Parliament of lawmakers who held seats before the disputed elections, which have been ruled invalid by the nation’s highest court.


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