At Least 17 People Killed in Kyrgyzstan Protests as Government Stormed

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

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

Riot police during anti-government protests in Bishkek. (Photograph: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty)

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

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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