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Kyrgyz Opposition Holds People's Congress In Osh

Police block a building in Kyrgyzstan on 18 March Bishkek, 19 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Kyrgyz opposition held a people's congress today in the country's second-largest city, Osh.

The congress, or Kurultai, set up a people's council -- an alternative ruling body meant to challenge the existing local authority. It comes amid continuing protests across the country over disputed parliamentary polls.

Thousands of opposition protestors gathered in the open air for the Osh people's congress. They met in front of the city's regional administrative building, occupied since yesterday by protesters.

Among the speakers were leading opposition politicians -- Roza Otunbaeva, a former ambassador and government official, and Kurmanbek Bakiev, a former prime minister.

And at the rally, a familiar chant -- President Askar Akaev must resign.

"Akaev leave!"

The congress elected a "People's Council" for the Osh region and chose leading opposition politician Anvar Artykov as its chairman. He is known as one of the leading members of the opposition bloc Ata-Yurt (Fatherland) movement.

It also set up a people's brigade -- a kind of unarmed, volunteer security force that protestors say is needed to protect the rallies and the buildings that are now occupied by protesters.

The people's council is meant to be an alternative ruling body to the existing regional administration.

Osh is the third place to set up such a council, after the Jalal-Abad region and the capital Bishkek. Opposition activists hope these councils will bring a new impetus to their protest campaign.

They say recent parliamentary elections were rigged in the government's favor, and they're demanding fresh polls and that President Akaev resign.

So far they've held rallies and taken over several local government buildings. Protesters also have blocked a highway between Osh and Bishkek.

At another rally today, about 2,000 protestors gathered in a housing estate in Kokjar on the outskirts of the capital.

Almaz Atambaev, the leader of the Kyrgyz Social Democratic party, told the rally that his party's three candidates should have won the recent parliamentary elections.

"They all won, we're sure of that, but again victory was stolen thanks to vote rigging."

Rallies are being held today in several other towns.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service/agencies)

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