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At Least 17 People Killed in Kyrgyzstan Protests as Government Stormed

Minister reportedly killed as demonstrations and clashes with riot police spread to capital Bishkek in declared state of emergency

by Luke Harding in Moscow and agencies

At least 180 people in Kyrgyzstan have been wounded and 17 killed in clashes between riot police and anti-government demonstrators.

Riot police during anti-government protests in Bishkek. (Photograph: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty) Police opened fire when thousands of protesters tried to storm the main government building in the capital Bishkek and overthrow the regime.

Reporters saw bodies lying in the main square outside the office of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the central Asian republic's president, and opposition leaders said that at least 17 people were killed in the violence

Bakiyev declared a state of emergency, as riot police firing tear gas and flash grenades beat back the crowds. There were also unconfirmed reports that the country's interior minister had been beaten by an angry mob.

Opposition activist Shamil Murat told Associated Press that he saw the dead body of minister Moldomusa Kongatiyev in a government building in the western town of Talas.

Murat said the protesters beat up Kongatiyev and forced him to order his subordinates in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek to stop a crackdown on an opposition rally there.

The protests, which began last week in several Kyrgz provincial cities, erupted today in Bishkek when around 200 people gathered outside the offices of the main opposition parties.

Demonstrators dodged attempts by police to stop them and marched towards the centre of the city, reports said. The crowd, armed with iron bars and stones, then tried to seize the main government building using an armoured vehicle. Several shots rang out from the building, the White House.

Opposition activists also took over the state TV channel, broadcasting speeches in support of the uprising.

The small central Asian republic is home to a major US airbase supplying Afghanistan, and has been a source of increasing tension between Moscow and Washington. The Kremlin is irritated by US presence in a region it regards as its backyard. It has also grown frustrated with the Bakiyev regime, which it believes has fallen under US influence.

Today's rolling violent protests appear to be largely spontaneous. All major opposition figures who might have led the uprising were arrested last night, and remain locked up. This morning's protests appear to be an explosion of popular frustration rather than a well-organised coup attempt.

Today one leading expert said a recent decision to impose punitive price hikes on water and gas had ignited the riots. "In the last few months there has been growing anger over this non-political issue," Paul Quinn-Judge, central Asia project director of the International Crisis Group, said. "The government thought they could get away with it. Most people agreed."

He went on: "But in the last few weeks we have seen several rumblings in the secondary towns and cities across Kyrgyzstan. There has also been a crisis inside government. Now it has all come together in one giant wreck."

In Naryn, a town in central Kyrgyzstan, around 3,000 anti-government protesters today seized the main government building. They ordered local governor Almazbek Akmataliyev to leave and then threw documents and a flag from the window of his office. The crowd then tried to seize the local police department.

Opposition supporters also occupied the building of the Chuy region administration in the town of Tokmak, located approximately 50km from Bishkek, Interfax reported.

Some 4,000 protesters also gathered on the main square in Talas, a small town in a picturesque valley on the border with Kazakhstan. Witnesses said protesters, throwing stones, were attempting to storm the Talas local police headquarters, a day after rampaging through the regional government's headquarters, fighting off police and burning Bakiyev's portraits.

According to Quinn-Judge, Kyrgyzstan was facing several power struggles – not just the one between the government and opposition, but also inside Bakiyev's family-run regime. "It's not a happy family. They don't get on," he said. "Some of them are upset that one of them is creaming off large parts of the economy."

The key question now was whether Bakiyev – who come to power in 2005 following the pro-reform Tulip Revolution – was prepared to use force to crush the revolt, he said.

Kyrgyzstan used to be the most progressive country in central Asia – a relative comparison given the region is run by democracy-averse super-presidents. In recent years it has moved quietly and steadily towards authoritarianism. There has been increasing pressure on the media, and clearly fabricated cases against opposition leaders.

Recently Bakiyev has mused that Krygzstan needs to emulate Russia's authoritarian model, which includes rigged elections, fake opposition parties and a controlled media. "The president has been talking about a new philosophy in the country. They really like Vladimir Putin's vertical of power. Unfortunately they can't organise it very well," Quinn-Judge noted.

Today Kyrgyz prime minister Daniyar Usenov condemned the opposition rallies, and said about 100 people were injured in the violence in Talas. "They are bandits, not an opposition movement," Usenov told reporters. "This kind of thing cannot be called opposition."

Russia, the main regional power, called for restraint. "We have consistently urged that all disagreements – political, economic and social – are resolved by the existing Kyrgyz democratic procedures without the use of force and without harm to the citizens of Kyrgyzstan," Interfax news agency quoted the Russian deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, as saying.

Last week, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon visited Bishkek and called on the government to do more to protect human rights. The United Nations said on Tuesday that Ban was concerned at events in Talas and urged all parties to show restraint.

Bishkek residents said internet access had been blocked in most households around the city, and that the main road between Talas and Bishkek had been entirely cordoned off by police.

Here is video from Russian Today:

 

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