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Kyrgyz President Won't Back Down, As Opposition Claims Power



WATCH: Bishkek residents found many government buildings ransacked and most of the shops empty and looted in the center of the Kyrgyz capital this morning. (video: Reuters)

BISHKEK (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev has said he will not relinquish power to an opposition coalition that said it was forming an interim government in the wake of a violent uprising.

In an interview with the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, Bakiev said, "I am the elected head of state and I do not accept any defeat."

His remarks came after the opposition said it had taken control of the government and dissolved parliament following the April 7 clashes between antigovernment protesters and police that left at least 75 people dead and hundreds more wounded.

Roza Otunbaeva, a former foreign minister, said she was now head of a temporary caretaker government (see profile) after Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov signed a letter of resignation.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today, Otunbaeva said she would coordinate an interim administration for at least six months until a new constitution is drafted that would pave the way for "fair" presidential and parliamentary elections:

But Bakiev, speaking to Ekho Moskvy several hours later, said he did not intend to resign and accused the opposition of an armed seizure of power.

"I think this is a real orgy [of violence] carried out by an armed group of people and I do not consider it my defeat," Bakiev said. He acknowledged, however, that he had been "stripped of any possibility" to influence events in the country at the moment.

The statement from Bakiev was the first since the unrest erupted in the northwestern city of Talas on April 6. His exact whereabouts are still unclear, though he said he was currently in the south of the country -- his stronghold -- as the opposition had earlier suggested.

Bakiev's statement of defiance capped another extraordinary day of events in Kyrgyzstan and raised the prospect of continued instability in the Central Asian country.


In what appeared to be an early sign of recognition of the interim government, the website of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he spoke to Otunbaeva by phone today in her capacity as the "head of the Kyrgyz government of national confidence."

Otunbaeva -- who helped bring Bakiev to power in the 2005 revolution that toppled his predecessor, Askar Akaev -- had urged the president to resign, saying his business "in Kyrgyzstan is finished."

Bakiev's Whereabouts Unclear

Bakiev has yet to appear in public since the unrest erupted in the northwestern city of Talas on April 6, and his exact whereabouts were not immediately clear.

He reportedly fled the capital for the southern part of the country, where Otunbaeva said he was trying to rally supporters "in order to continue defending his positions."

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent in the southern city of Jalal-Abad said the regional governor told a crowd there today that Jalalabad was establishing a "committee" to protect Bakiev. Governor Koshbai Masirov said Jalal-Abad would not allow anyone to offend "our son," a reference to Bakiev, who hails from the region.

There's also been no word from Prime Minister Usenov.

The country's de facto rulers -- many of them political figures released just hours earlier from jail -- said they were in control of the army, police, media, the parliament, the White House, hospitals and Bishkek international airport.

Among those released was Ismail Isakov, a former defense minister jailed on what supporters said were politically motivated charges of abuse of power. Isakov -- named by Otunbaeva as interim defense minister -- said people had nothing to fear now from the security forces, and described the security situation as stable.

"There is no reason to conclude that security is not being maintained in the country. The people's power has been established everywhere. The border guards are guarding the borders and carrying out their own duties," Isakov said. "There is just one matter that we need to stop activities of tiny clans of the corrupt families who care about their own interests, then, as I strongly believe, life will go on by its order."



However, RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondents said the situation in Bishkek remained chaotic today. With continued looting and city residents setting up voluntary groups in an attempt to keep order, the self-proclaimed new interior minister, Bolot Sherniazov, ordered security forces to fire on looters.

Some of the members of Otunbaeva's team were seen talking to crowds of people who were outside the White House.

A national day of mourning will be held on April 9 to honor victims of the April 7 clashes.

RFE/RL's correspondent in the northern Chui Province also said there had been reports today that groups of Kyrgyz had attacked members of the local Dungan minority, a Muslim people of Chinese origin.

In a radio address, Otunbaeva called on people "not to give in to provocations or destroy and loot the property of ordinary citizens."

The chaos followed weeks of tension between the opposition and the government led by Bakiev, who opponents say has cracked down on independent media and fostered corruption.

In other developments today, Russian news agencies reported that Moscow had sent 150 extra troops to its military base in Kant. The Kremlin also said it ordered increased protection for Russian diplomatic missions and other institutions in Kyrgyzstan.

And the UN secretary-general and the current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kazakhstan, said they would send special envoys to Kyrgyzstan to monitor the situation.

The European Union's foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called for a quick return to law and order and said the EU would offer emergency aid to Kyrgyzstan.

Washington Reaching Out To Both Sides

The international community -- including the United States, Russia, China and the United Nations -- has urged all sides to show calm and restraint.

Before the opposition claimed control, Bakiev’s son, Maxim, accompanied by Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Kadyrbek Sarbaev, left Bishkek for Washington to take part in government-level meetings.


Today U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said a State Department official met briefly this morning with Sarbaev to inform him that the scheduled meeting had been canceled.


He added that in Bishkek this morning, the U.S. Embassy's charge’ d’affairs had met with Otunbaeva, and said in both encounters, the U.S. message was that “we hope that calm will be restored in a manner consistent with democratic principles.”


“Our priority at this point is law and order and that democracy be established in accordance with the rule of law,” Crowley said. “We continue to reach out to government officials and opposition leaders in every way that we possibly can.”

Crowley said there has been no U.S. contact with Bakiev, and when asked if Washington still considers him the president, the spokesman replied that U.S. officials are “in touch with government ministries … and opposition figures” alike.


“We stand with the people of Kyrgyzstan. We understand that there were specific grievances that resulted in the demonstrations that have produced an opposition that now says that it has effective control of the government,” he said, adding, “We will continue to work to help Kyrgyzstan and the people of Kyrgyzstan to have a government that they can support and that functions in accordance with democratic principles.”


U.S.-Russian Cooperation

U.S. officials also said today that they're working closely with Russia to respond to the changing situation in Bishkek. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the latest developments before signing an arms treaty in Prague.


At a press briefing following the signing, Michael McFaul, Obama's advisor on Russian affairs, said the United States doesn't view the conflict as a proxy struggle between Washington and Moscow.


Kyrgyzstan is home to a military base in the city of Manas that Russia tried to claim before the U.S. gained access to the facility as a supply line to Afghanistan.


McFaul said the two leaders agreed that they have mutual interests in Kyrgyzstan’s stability, and said that unlike at the beginning the Obama’s term in office, when “there was a sense of 'it's us against them'” with regard to the competition for control of the Manas air base, “what was striking today, as we talked about our mutual interests and security in Kyrgyzstan, was that we were not talking in zero-sum terms. We were talking about our mutual interests there."


The NATO-led force in Afghanistan today said flights supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan from the U.S. military air base at Manas had been temporarily suspended. However, a spokesman said the move had not had any significant impact on operations or logistical support in Afghanistan.

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