Support the news

Opposition Says It Has Claimed Control In Kyrgyzstan

A Kyrgyz protester waves the national flag as a vehicle burns in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday following clashes with police. Police in Kyrgyzstan opened fire on thousands of angry protesters who tried to seize the main government building amid rioting in the capital as protests spread across the Central Asian nation. (AP)
A Kyrgyz protester waves the national flag as a vehicle burns in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday following clashes with police. Police in Kyrgyzstan opened fire on thousands of angry protesters who tried to seize the main government building amid rioting in the capital as protests spread across the Central Asian nation. (AP)

Protesters seized internal security headquarters and a state TV channel after fatal clashes with government forces in Kyrgyzstan Wednesday, saying they now controlled the Central Asian nation that hosts a U.S. base key to the Afghan war.

Opposition leaders have called for the closure of the Manas air base, saying it could put their country at risk if the United States goes to war with Iran. The U.S. State Department said U.S. transport operations at Manas, outside of the capital, Bishkek, were "functioning normally."

An Associated Press reporter saw opposition leader Keneshbek Duishebayev sitting in the office of the chief of the National Security Agency, Kyrgyzstan's successor to the Soviet KGB. Duishebayev issued orders on the phone to people Duishebayev said were security agents. He also gave orders to a uniformed special forces commando.

Duishebayev told the AP that "we have created units to restore order" on the streets.

What appeared to be a revolution in this mountainous former Soviet republic erupted when thousands of protesters furious over corruption and spiraling utility bills seized government buildings in Bishkek and clashed with police, who opened fire, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. The unrest did not appear likely to immediately spread across former Soviet Central Asia.

Crowds of demonstrators, called onto the streets by opposition parties for a day of protest, took control of the state TV building and looted it, then marched toward the Interior Ministry, according to Associated Press reporters on the scene, before changing direction and attacking a national security building nearby. They were repelled by security forces loyal to President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose whereabouts were a mystery.

Since coming to power in 2005 on a wave of street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability, but many observers say he has done so at the expense of democratic standards while enriching himself and his family. He faced the same accusations of corruption and cronyism that led to the ouster of his predecessor.

Over the past two years, Kyrgyz authorities have clamped down on free media, and opposition activists say they have routinely been subjected to physical intimidation and targeted by politically motivated criminal investigations.

Many of the opposition leaders once were allies of Bakiyev, in some cases former ministers or diplomats.

The anti-government forces have been in disarray until recently, but widespread anger over a 200 percent hike in electricity and heating gas bills has helped them come together and galvanize support.

Many of Wednesday's protesters were men from poor villages, including some who have come to the capital to live and work on construction sites. Already struggling, they were outraged by the utility bill hikes and were easily stirred up by opposition claims of corruption in Bakiyev's circle.

Kyrgyz are secular Muslims, and Islamic sentiments do not appear to have played a role in the uprising.

Temir Sariyev, an opposition party leader, told The Associated Press that "the prime minister has submitted his resignation, and the entire government is also resigning." Sariyev earlier announced a coalition of opposition politicians had agreed on a new prime minister as well as a new interior minister and new security chief.

The claims could not immediately be confirmed.

An Associated Press report saw dozens of wounded demonstrators lining the corridors of one of Bishkek's main hospitals, a block away from the main square, where doctors were unable to cope with the flood of patients. Weeping nurses slumped over dead bodies, doctors shouted at each other and the floors were covered in blood.

Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry said 40 people had died and more than 400 were wounded in clashes with police. Opposition activist Toktoim Umetalieva said at least 100 people had died after police opened fire with live ammunition.

This program aired on April 7, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news