Ex-Soviet state on brink of revolution as death toll rises
Published 08/04/2010 | 05:00
Thousands of protesters fought running battles with police in Kyrgyzstan yesterday in an uprising that left the former Soviet republic on the brink of revolution.
Up to 100 people have died, including a government minister, according to police.
Opposition activists seized the parliament building and laid siege to the government headquarters. The country's deputy prime minister was taken hostage. The main state television station was overrun and by early afternoon the president had declared a state of emergency.
The protesters are angry at price inflation and say President Kurmanbek Bakiyev has failed to curb corruption.
The US, which uses an air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan to supply troops in Afghanistan, called for calm, saying it was "deeply concerned" by events.
About 100 people were killed and 180 wounded, although the death toll is expected to rise with witnesses describing piles of dead bodies in the streets.
Last night a Kyrgyz opposition leader said the government had resigned and that President Bakiyev had fled Bishkek. Temir Sariyev said the opposition had entered the government building in central Bishkek and that Daniyar Usenov, the prime minister, had resigned. There was no official confirmation.
Earlier, Russian television stations released film showing riot police in Bishkek fleeing a screaming mob, protesters shooting at police with AK-47 rifles and officers being clubbed with what looked like baseball bats as they lay on the ground. Witnesses said police defending key government buildings in Bishkek had at first tried to keep a 5,000-strong crowd at bay using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
But later, as they struggled to cope, they fired live rounds into the crowd, killing an unknown number of protesters.
There were reports of protesters seizing automatic rifles, armoured vehicles and police cars. Another 10,000 protesters stormed police headquarters in the western town of Talas.
Opposition supporters said the authorities had detained a number of prominent opposition leaders. The government claimed it was dealing with an outbreak of crime rather than a political uprising.
Shamil Murat, an opposition activist, said that Moldomusa Kongatiyev, the interior minister, was beaten to death by a mob in Talas, where the unrest erupted. The ministry denied reports of his death. As the authorities declared a curfew in Bishkek, burnt out cars smouldered in the streets and gunfire could be heard across the city.
The opposition accuses President Bakiyev of cronyism, economic mismanagement, and authoritarianism. He gained power five years ago on a wave of similar protests known as the Tulip Revolution. Opponents say he is as bad if not worse than Askar Akayev, the man he toppled in 2005.
Russia, which also has an air base in Kyrgyzstan, appealed for restraint. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Kyrgyzstan this week, made an urgent appeal "for dialogue and calm to avoid further bloodshed".
Analysts say Washington sees Kyrgyzstan as an important bulwark against radical Islam in central Asia and that the US, Russia and China would want a quick end to the anarchy.
"Russia and the United States have been competing for influence for a long time and have air bases just a few miles apart, so it is an active centre of the Great Game right now between the powers of Russia, China and the US," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Uralsib bank in Moscow. (© Daily Telegraph, London)