Calls for calm after riots kill 65

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has called for calm in the aftermath of deadly riots in the central Asian country that killed at least 65 people.

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“As a result of the unrest, 65 people were killed, 495 more asked for medical aid and 393 were hospitalised,” a health ministry official said.

Opposition protesters seized the presidential administration on Wednesday night and announced on state radio that they had formed a provisional government with former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva at its head.

Ousted president flees

Ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev had fled the capital, a defence ministry official told AFP.

“Hard changes are upon us, authority has passed into the people’s hands, and in some places it was done by force,” Otunbayeva, said in a radio broadcast.

“We ask you not to give in to provocations, or to destroy and loot the property of ordinary citizens. Some of us were killed and wounded, and we must do everything in our power to help them,” Otunbayeva added.

Bakiyev’s opponents took control of Kyrgyzstan Wednesday after a day of spectacular violence that ended with Bakiyev fleeing the capital of the strategic Central Asian state for the southern town of Osh.

Disputed death toll

A health ministry official says a total of 65 people had been killed in the riots, but Opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev put the death toll at more than 100.

Opposition protesters seized the presidential administration Wednesday night and announced on state radio that they had formed a provisional government with Otunbayeva at its head.

Opposition leader Temir Sariyev said on Kyrgyz radio that Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov had signed a letter of resignation and Otunbayeva vowed that the new leadership in the country would move quickly to normalize the situation.

The riots were the culmination of spiralling protests in the Central Asian nation.

State of emergency declared

The opposition, accusing Bakiyev’s government of human rights violations, authoritarianism and economic mismanagement, had called for his resignation.

Despite briefly arresting three leading opposition figures and declaring a state of emergency, the authorities failed to prevent the rebels from seizing the key levers of power.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the United States was monitoring the situation “very closely”.

A US official in Washington, who requested anonymity, said the Kyrgyz authorities had closed the airport north of the capital that is used a transit point for US troops in Afghanistan.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement: “This is Kyrgyzstan’s internal affair, but the form the protest took showed ordinary people’s extreme outrage at the existing regime.”

‘Avoid more casualties’

His spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova told the RIA Novosti news agency: “The president thinks that the most important thing is to avoid more casualties and restore the rule of law in the state.”

Prior to seizing the presidential offices, opposition protesters laid siege to both the national parliament and the offices of the government, demanding that Bakiyev quit.

Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades, and Prime Minister Usenov declared a state of emergency, but all to little effect.

A police source and a witness said Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev had been killed in the northwest hub of Talas where the first protests erupted, a report denied by the interior ministry.

Deputy PM taken hostage

Kongantiyev was attacked by protestors who had also taken deputy prime minister Akylbek Zhaparov captive, the Kabar Kyrgyz state news agency reported.

In Bishkek, stun grenade blasts reverberated across the city and the crackle of automatic weapons fire filled the air as protesters in the main square gasped for breath in a fog of tear gas.

Witnesses said security forces had fired live bullets into the air as between 3,000 and 5,000 protestors overturned cars and set them on fire in Bishkek.

Protestors appeared to have seized several heavily armoured police vehicles and were standing on them waving red Kyrgyz flags and the blue flag of the opposition movement.

Looters also ransacked the home of Bakiyev’s family, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

Violence across the nation

The violence came a day after more than 1,000 opposition protesters burst through police lines and took control of government offices in Talas.

In the central city of Naryn, hundreds of protesters on Wednesday stormed the regional government headquarters after the local governor refused to negotiate.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous country perched at the strategic junction between China, Russia and southwest Asia, is among the poorest countries to have emerged from the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

It has been plagued by corruption and chronic instability and the troubles resemble widespread unrest that washed over the country in March 2005 and resulted in the overthrow of president Askar Akayev.


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