April 8, 2010 in Nation/World

Heavy shooting breaks out again in Kyrgyz capital

Flight status unknown at U.S. air base where Fairchild crews rotate through
Associated Press
 
Kyrgyzstan, at a glance
Geography: A largely mountainous country in the middle of Asia, a bit smaller than New Zealand or Nebraska, Kyrgyzstan borders China and three other former Soviet republics: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

Population: About 5 million people; around 65 percent are ethnic Kyrgyz, 14 percent Uzbek, 13 percent Russian.

Economy: It is mostly agricultural, and about half the population lives below the poverty line. Remittances sent home from Kyrgyz workers abroad are significant and plunged during the global recession.

Strategic importance: It is a key supply center for the war efforts against the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan. The U.S. opened an air base in Kyrgyzstan in 2001 and Russia opened an air base in 2003. Kyrgyzstan is also seen as a relatively stable corner in a volatile region.

Reasons for violence: President Kurmanbek Bakiyev came to power in street protests of 2005, dubbed the Tulip Revolution, that forced his predecessor, Askar Akayev, to flee. But Bakiyev, like Akayev, has grown increasingly authoritarian and critics say he has sacrificed democratic standards to maintain peace. Anger at huge hikes in utility prices has galvanized opposition this year and fed public dissent.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Associated Press reporters in Kyrgyzstan are hearing sustained automatic weapons fire breaking out as night falls in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, home to a U.S. air base key to the Afghan war.

A bloody uprising in the impoverished Central Asian nation Wednesday was followed Thursday by the opposition announcing an interim government and the president fleeing the capital for his stronghold in the south. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev then declared he was not admitting defeat.

Resistance from Bakiyev raised the prospect of continued instability in Kyrgyzstan, also home to a Russian military facility.

U.S. military officials said Kyrgyzstan halted flights for 12 hours Wednesday at the Manas air base, and did not say if flights had resumed.

Some personnel from Fairchild Air Force Base were in Kyrgyzstan when the hostilities occurred, said Lt. Casey Osborne, the Fairchild deputy chief of public affairs.

“We can confirm that a number of them are at the transit center at Manas,” he said.

However, Osborne could offer no information about their situation.

Fairchild crews routinely rotate through Manas.

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