Operations returning to normal at U.S. air base
JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan – In the stronghold of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed president, residents clustered on the streets Saturday, holding intense discussions on whether to follow the figures who claim to be the new government.
President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the capital, Bishkek, on Wednesday after a protest rally against corruption, rising utility bills and deteriorating human rights exploded into police gunfire and chaos that left at least 79 people dead and sparked protesters to storm government buildings. He was believed to be in his home Jalal-Abad region on Saturday.
“He built the economy. He built schools, roads and kindergartens. The protesters were just a minority,” said Aizat Zupukharova, a health worker in Jalal-Abad.
But, she added, “People are afraid to come out.”
“Bakiyev did some good things, but his family led him astray,” said another resident, Sapar Usmonov, referring to widespread allegations that Bakiyev’s relatives profited hugely and improperly from his nearly five years in office. The claims echo those made against Bakiyev’s predecessor, Askar Akayev, who was driven out of office in protests in 2005.
The interim rulers say they have offered Bakiyev safe passage out of the country if he steps down, but he has made no public sign of capitulation. That stalemate leaves Kyrgyzstan’s near-term stability in doubt, a strategic worry for the West because of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan that is a key element in the international military campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The base provides refueling flights for warplanes over Afghanistan and is an important transit point for troops. U.S. Central Command spokesman Maj. John Redfield said that although normal flight operations at the base were resumed Friday, military passenger flights were being temporarily diverted.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone on Saturday with Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader, Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister and onetime Bakiyev ally, to offer humanitarian aid and to discuss the need for stability in the region, the U.S. State Department said.
Otunbayeva reaffirmed the country would abide by previous agreements to help the U.S. seek stability in nearby Afghanistan.