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Kyrgyz Opposition Forms Interim Government

Men stand on a burned-out car in front of the Kyrgyz government headquarters in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Thursday. (AP)
Men stand on a burned-out car in front of the Kyrgyz government headquarters in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Thursday. (AP)

An opposition coalition proclaimed a new interim government Thursday in Kyrgyzstan after clashes left dozens dead and said it would rule until elections are held in six months. It also urged the president, who has fled the capital, to resign.

The new interim defense minister said the armed forces have joined the opposition and will not be used against protesters.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for calm and said he would immediately send an envoy to Kyrgyzstan, which he had criticized just last week for its human rights violations.

China on Thursday said it was "deeply concerned" about the violent uprising in its small western neighbor, echoing comments by Russia and the United States. The impoverished Central Asian nation is home to a key U.S. military base supporting the fighting in Afghanistan that the opposition has said it wants to close. It also hosts a Russian military base.

Kyrgyzstan, which shares a 533-mile (858-kilometer) border with China, is also a gateway to other energy-rich Central Asian countries where China, Russia and the U.S. are competing fiercely for dominance.

Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva, the former foreign minister, said parliament was dissolved and she would head the interim government. She said the new government controlled four of the seven provinces and called on President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to resign. She said he had fled the capital of Bishkek to seek support in the central Jalal-Abad region.

"His business in Kyrgyzstan is finished," she said Thursday.

Thousands of protesters have clashed with security forces throughout the country in the last two days, driving out local governments and seizing government headquarters in Bishkek.

Elite riot police shot into crowds of rock-throwing protesters in Bishkek on Wednesday and hospitals were overwhelmed with the dead and wounded. But the country's new defense chief said Thursday that the nation's 5 million people had nothing to fear now from the security forces.

"Special forces and the military were used against civilians in Bishkek, Talas and other places," Ismail Isakov said. "This will not happen in the future."

Kyrgyz people walk past windows of a shop broken by looters in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Thursday. (AP)
Kyrgyz people walk past windows of a shop broken by looters in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Thursday. (AP)

In Bishkek, residents nervously went about their business on a clear spring morning Thursday, the snowcapped mountains visible in the distance. There were no police on the streets.

Most of the government buildings in the capital, as well as Bakiyev's houses, have been looted or set on fire and two major markets were burned down. A paper portrait of Bakiyev at government headquarters was smeared with red paint. Obscenities about him were spray-painted on buildings nearby.

Otunbayeva blamed Bakiyev for the week's violent clashes.

"Yesterday's events were a response to aggression, tyranny and a crackdown on dissenters," she said. "All the people who were killed and wounded are victims of this regime."

The Health Ministry said at least 74 people were killed and 400 people hospitalized in clashes nationwide Wednesday.

Almaz Bakibayev, a 30-year-old cook who was among the wounded, said he hoped the new government would be better than Bakiyev's.

"The blood was not shed in vain," he said at Bishkek's Hospital No. 4. "What I can't understand is why they started shooting at people."

Ban, the U.N. chief, said the dissent was evident when he visited the country on Saturday.
"I could feel the tension in the air," he said Thursday in Vienna. "The pressure has been building for months."

Since coming to power in 2005 amid street protests known as the Tulip Revolution, Bakiyev had ensured a measure of stability, but the opposition said he did so at the expense of democratic standards while enriching himself and his family.

He gave his relatives, including his son, top government and economic posts and faced the same accusations of corruption and cronyism that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Askar Akayev. Many protesters were also outraged at huge hikes in prices for electricity and gas heating that went into effect in January.

Kyrgyzstan is a predominantly Muslim country, but it has remained secular. There has been less fear of the spread of Islamic fundamentalism than in other mostly Muslim regions of the former Soviet Union.

"As a friendly neighbor, we are deeply concerned over the development of the situation in the Kyrgyz capital and other areas, and we sincerely hope that order can be restored as soon as possible," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied any involvement in the uprising but criticized Bakiyev's government for repeating his predecessor's mistakes on nepotism.

"These events caught me completely by surprise," Putin admitted.

Russia has sent 150 paratroopers to its air base in Kyrgyzstan, the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the General Staff, as saying. The Kant base, 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of Bishkek, has been operating since 2003 and has some 400 Russian military personnel.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. deplored the violence and urged all to respect the rule of law.

"We identify with the concerns that the people of Kyrgyzstan have about their future" but those concerns should be dealt with peacefully, Crowley said.

U.S. military officials said Kyrgyzstan officials halted flights for 12 hours Wednesday at the Manas air base, which supports the military operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was not clear whether the air base had reopened.

Officials at "Manas have taken all appropriate measures to continue to support operations in Afghanistan," U.S. Air Force Maj. Rickardo Bodden, a public affairs officer, said Thursday. He refused to elaborate for security reasons.

In 2009, Kyrgyzstan said U.S. forces would have to leave Manas, a decision made shortly after Russia granted Kyrgyzstan more than $2 billion in aid and loans. The government later reversed its stance and agreed to a revised one-year deal giving U.S. troops rights to use the air base and raising the rent to $60 million a year from $17 million.

The U.S. is also paying $37 million for airport improvements, another $30 million for new navigation systems, and giving the government $51.5 million to combat drug trafficking and terrorism and promote economic development.

This program aired on April 8, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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