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Kyrgyzstan: Deputy Released Amid Protests, Violence

Bishkek, 19 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov was freed from detention today following a wave of popular demonstrations demanding his release and a mounting death toll among protesters. RFE/RL's correspondent in the capital, Bishkek, says the government has appealed to Beknazarov to calm public tension in the Djalalabad Province, where thousands of people have taken part in protest demonstrations in the past week.

On 17 March, police opened fire at about 2,000 demonstrators gathering to demand Beknazarov's release. At least five people have been killed and more than 60 were injured, though conflicting reports suggest that more may be dead or seriously wounded.

More clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan between police and demonstrators demanding the opposition deputy's release have since left another 19 people injured, officials said today. Interior Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev said demonstrators repeated their attempt to seize the local department of the Interior Ministry near the village of Kerben.

He said police were forced to push back the demonstrators, and six civilians and 13 police officers were injured in the clashes.

Beknazarov was arrested in early January on charges of abuse of power. His trial started on 12 February before being immediately postponed, but proceedings continued on 11 March.

Beknazarov and his supporters say he was put on trial because he criticized the government.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that the U.S. government was concerned about Beknazarov's arrest. "As we've underscored before, we see the respect for human rights as an essential part of the fight against terrorism, and we continue to support human rights and civil society and democracy in all the areas where we're also cooperating in the fight against terrorism," Boucher said.