Prague, 22 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Kyrgyz government resigned today following more than a week of public antigovernment demonstrations over the shooting deaths of six protesters in March in the southern Aksy district.
The cabinet stepped down after Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev handed in his resignation at a closed meeting of the presidential Security Council. He had held the post since December 2000.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Bakiev says he offered his resignation because, as government head, he feels partly responsible for the killings. But the main reason, he says, is that he wanted the people directly responsible to resign:
"The reason for my decision is that the people in the government who are responsible for the tragedy have not taken the decision to resign. While the demonstrations are continuing, I want to force these people to resign."
Nikolai Tanayev, formerly the first deputy prime minister, has been appointed acting prime minister until a new cabinet is formed.
The incident comes in the wake of a special state commission report, which concluded that firearms were used illegally to quell the March demonstrations, held in protest of legal proceedings against a local member of parliament.
President Askar Akaev announced at the end of today's session of the Security Council that three other high-ranking officials have also tendered their resignations: the head of the presidential administration, Amanbek Karypkulov, Minister of Internal Affairs Temirbek Akmataliev, and Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev. Akaev said he accepted Karypkulov and Akmataliev's resignations but that Abyshkaev must complete the investigation into the Aksy incident before he can step down.
Akaev said Karypkulov's order that local officials not meet with protesters prior to the March events played a role in the violence that ensued. Opposition and human rights activists have also accused Karypkulov of being the main cause behind the tragedy.
However, Akaev defended both Internal Affairs Minister AkmatAliyev as well as the director of the National Security Service, Kalyk Imankulov, saying they were appointed earlier this year and could not bear full responsibility for the fatal incident. Prime Minister Bakiev has insisted both men played a role, but government representatives at today's Security Council meeting refused to implicate the country's security structures in the deaths.
Misir Ashirkulov, the secretary of the Security Council, told journalists at the end of a session that today's discussions should lead the way to an equitable resolution with the protesters, who have staged antigovernment demonstrations for over a week:
"I think that when the conclusions of the commission will be published, the situation will change because the protestors' demands have been fulfilled. We know their demands, and I think that this evening the situation will be normalized."
But Adaham Madumarow, an opposition parliamentarian, says the protests will not end until the president has resigned. He tells RFE/RL:
"If the president believes he can put the situation in order, he is wrong. The matter at hand is not about the government but about the president himself. It is fair that [presidential administration head Amanbek] Karypkulov has resigned. But he should have been sacked before; he has been in charge of all the bad things the president wanted him to do."
In an address on national television on 20 May, Akaev acknowledged that authorities were responsible for the deaths of demonstrators in clashes with police in March in the southern village of Kerben:
"What are the causes of the Kerben tragedy? First and foremost, it is the local authorities and police, who did not respect democratic requirements."
The Kyrgyz leader also promised that any government officials connected to the events in March would be investigated and dismissed if evidence revealed they were at fault for the bloodshed.
These clashes, prompted by protests in support of jailed opposition lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov, marked the first time public demonstrations turned violent in the republic since it gained independence in 1991.
Beknazarov's conditional release has failed to ease tensions in the Aksy district, where Kyrgyzstan's opposition has been blocking the main north-south highway since 13 May, demanding an independent inquiry into the March incident and the resignation of the government.
Protesters suspended the blockade of the highway yesterday, but threatened to renew protests if authorities failed to punish the guilty officials. "The road is open until Thursday [23 May]. If the government adopts a decision that satisfies [the opposition], the blockade will be lifted altogether. If not, the [protesters] will take new action," opposition parliamentarian Ismail Isakov told reporters.
(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)